EU push for partial Russian oil ban delayed by Hungary's demands

Sanctions in the EU require the unanimous consent of its 27 nations. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - European Union efforts to approve a partial ban on Russian oil imports hit an obstacle after Hungary raised new or already rejected demands, sinking a push to clinch a deal on Wednesday (June 1), according to people familiar with the negotiations.

EU ambassadors may meet again on Thursday in Luxembourg to try to green light the bloc's sixth sanctions package that would target Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

Sanctions in the EU require the unanimous consent of its 27 nations and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blocked the latest package of measures for weeks.

EU leaders appeared to achieve a breakthrough on Monday when they gave their political blessing to the sanctions, leading many to say approval was close at hand.

The new measures, which would represent the EU's toughest yet, are aimed at curbing Russia's ability to finance the war in Ukraine. The proposed sanctions would ban the import of seaborne oil by early next year, while exempting pipeline crude as a concession to Hungary and other landlocked countries, which rely on Russian supplies through the Druzhba pipeline.

During a closed-door meeting in Brussels on Wednesday when ambassadors were trying to finalise the sanctions, Hungary demanded that Patriarch Kirill, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church and has been a vocal supporter of President Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine, be removed from the EU's proposed list of sanctioned individuals, two of the people said.

The Hungarian request was not raised by Mr Orban with the leaders at the Monday meeting, according to the people. Budapest also asked that it be granted the right to sell Russian oil that it refines, the two people said, exempting Hungary from the current proposal that would prohibit countries that import pipeline oil from selling it to others once the ban on seaborne supplies kicks in.

This request had been raised by Mr Orban at the leaders' summit where it had been rejected. Hungary crossed a line at Wednesday's ambassadors' meeting and the mood was not good, one of the people said. A spokesperson from the Hungarian government didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

During Monday's leaders' meeting, the EU granted assurances that Budapest could source alternative oil supplies should Hungary's pipeline deliveries be disrupted.

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