Hungary’s refusal to back sanctions threatens bid to weaken Putin

Viktor Orban ally slams EU oil embargo on Russia

Concerted efforts to derail Vladimir Putin’s war are being jeopardised by the refusal of both Hungary and Greece to back new EU sanctions, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned.

And Vlad Vlasiuk also says Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s admiration for the Russian President inevitably called into question whether his country should be permitted to take the rolling Presidency of the European Council next July.

The European Union is currently discussing its 11th package of measures since Putin ordered his invasion on February 24, 2022, with the latest round potentially targeting countries which help Moscow get around its trade embargo.

However, both Budapest and Athens are withholding their agreement unless and until Brussels agrees to exempt a number of companies currently referred to by the bloc as “war sponsors”.

Earlier this month, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock is also understood to have taken the unusual step of criticising Hungary directly.

Mr Vlasiuk, an economist who works for the Office of the President of Ukraine, told “Greece and Hungary’s decision to block the latest EU sanctions against Russia could have detrimental effects on the world’s joint efforts to tackle Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

“We believe they may be under immense pressure from companies listed under the ‘International Sponsors of War’ by Ukraine’s National Agency on Corruption Prevention.

“However, we expect our European allies to stand against the pressures and be decisive for the will of the European people, its unity, and international security and order.”

Looking ahead, Mr Vlasiuk said: “Hungary is scheduled to take over the presidency of the EU in July next year.

“A clear foreign policy and the inclusion of decisive actions towards strengthening the sanctions regime against Russia will help position the EU as a unified leader in matters of international security.

“Hungary’s recent positions will raise doubts about its capacity to lead by example and support the rest of the EU’s states in weakening Russia’s war machine.”

Speaking last month, Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said his country would continue to block the disbursement of a new tranche of European Union military support to Ukraine until Kyiv removes a Hungarian bank from a list of international sponsors of Russia’s war.

Speaking in Vienna after a meeting with his Austrian counterpart, Mr Szijjarto called Ukraine’s recent listing of OTP Bank “scandalous and unacceptable,” and said Hungary wouldn’t approve the release of £430million (€500million) from the EU’s European Peace Facility until the bank was removed from the list.

He warned: “We cannot support the allocation of another half a billion euros from the European Peace Facility for arms transfers to Ukraine, and we will not give it the green light as long as OTP is on this particular list.”

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Earlier this month, Ukraine’s National Agency on Corruption Prevention classified OTP Bank as an international sponsor of the war over its continued presence in Russia, sparking a backlash from Hungarian officials.

After the listing of OTP, the banking group’s Ukrainian branch released a statement arguing that it had “drastically reduced its presence in the Russian market,” and that its market share there had decreased to only 0.17 percent.

Relations between Hungary and Ukraine have been strained by Budapest’s refusal to supply Kyiv with weapons or to allow their transfer across the countries’ shared border.

Hungary’s nationalist government, which maintains close ties with Moscow, has also argued against EU sanctions on Russia, and sought to cement Hungary’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Mr Szijjarto also suggested that Hungary would move to block further EU sanctions on Russia unless Ukraine delists OTP Bank, saying Kyiv had become “increasingly belligerent” with respect to Hungary.

He added: “As long as Ukraine keeps OTP on the list of international sponsors of the war, Hungary cannot agree to decisions that would require the European Union and its member states to make further economic and financial sacrifices.”

Speaking in February during his annual state-of-the-union address, Mr Orban said: “We will keep our economic relations with Russia, and this is what we propose to our allies as well.

“The Hungarian government does not consider the suggestion that Russia is a threat to the security of Hungary or Europe to be realistic.”

With respect to Greece, one well-placed EU diplomat told Politico: “Greece reiterated that, should there be concrete evidence of a violation of sanctions, these should be brought to the attention of the member states concerned, at the technical level, so that this be adequately investigated and then due action will be taken.

“In the case of the Ukrainian name-and-shame list, the Greek companies are accused as International War Sponsors even though they are not violating the restrictive measures against Russia.”

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