Zelensky to address EU summit as oil sanction plan stalls

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will speak via video link with EU leaders on May 30. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will speak via videolink with EU leaders on Monday (May 30) as the bloc struggles to agree on oil sanctions on Russia in the teeth of opposition from Hungary.

EU chief Charles Michel said in a letter sent to leaders on Friday that Mr Zelensky would virtually join the beginning of the two-day emergency summit taking place in Brussels.

The gathering will tackle Ukraine's immediate need for cash, the energy and food crises ensuing from the war, and how to build up a coordinated European defence military industry, Mr Michel's letter said.

Much of the attention though will be on Brussels' stymied effort to impose an import embargo on Russian oil as part of stepped-up punishment on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on May 4 as a plan to be phased in over this year, the oil ban has run aground on resolute refusal by Hungary to accept it.

The government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - a longtime thorn in Brussels' side for his rolling back of democratic norms - says it needs financial "solutions" from the European Union first, given the country's dependence on piped-in Russian oil.

The question of money is especially problematic, as the EU has been withholding coronavirus recovery funds sought by Budapest because of its rule of law failings.

Mr Orban wrote to Mr Michel earlier this week saying it would be "counterproductive" to raise the oil sanctions issue at the summit.

But Mr Michel said Wednesday he was "still confident" the matter could be resolved in time for the gathering.

EU ambassadors were on Sunday to meet to try once more to find agreement.

Some diplomats said it might be possible to exclude the oil pipeline to Hungary from the sanctions package, but others said that would expose EU disunity and hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a win.

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