EUROPE
Hungary celebrates EU Russia oil ban ‘victory’ – for now

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Tuesday (31 May) hailed Hungary’s exemption from an EU Russian oil ban, but analysts warned he has only won more time and will need to adjust to the new reality.

European Union leaders agreed Monday to ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports under a deal that stops tanker deliveries but includes “a temporary exception” for pipelines – meaning Hungary can keep receiving Russian crude.

Around 65% of landlocked Hungary’s oil demand is met by the “Druzhba” (Friendship) pipeline, which delivers the Urals crude from Russia.

Orbán on Tuesday said his country had averted “the most hair-raising idea” of a full oil embargo.

“Hungary won some time but not a lot,” noted Laszlo Arato, a Hungarian Brussels-based EU affairs journalist.

“The temporary exemption will soon be back on the table,” he told Hungarian news site HVG.hu.

The situation was “much more nuanced” than a simple win for Hungary.

In a sign of this, Orbán’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto flew to Zagreb Tuesday as Hungary seeks to increase cooperation with Croatian oil suppliers and expand delivery capacity.

“In the current uncertain international situation, it is extremely important that we can count on more transport routes,” he said.

“If oil can’t come from the east, it can only come from the Adria oil pipeline,” which starts in the Adriatic Sea.

Analyst Patrik Szicherle of the Political Capital think tank told AFP said Szijjarto’s “swift” trip to Croatia shows “the Hungarian cabinet believes the debate on the oil embargo is not over.

“In the long-term, Hungary will have to adjust its policies to the new reality,” he said.

‘Fight not over’

The pro-government Magyar Nemzet daily newspaper on Tuesday ran an op-ed titled “A European failure, a Hungarian success”.

“Hungary has been the only member state that has consistently and clearly resisted the oil embargo. In doing so, it represented not only its own interests, but also those of the region,” said pro-government analyst Oliver Hortay.

But he acknowledged that “the fight is not over”.

“We will have to fight for Hungarian energy security in the near future too,” he said.

There was criticism elsewhere in Europe.

Member of the European Parliament and Greens leader Philippe Lamberts in a statement slammed Orbán’s “successful blackmailing”.

A European diplomat said Orbán would “drag out” any future discussions on the pipeline “as long as he can”.

“Orbán got what he wanted because the leaders desperately wanted a deal,” the diplomat said.

The oil ban marks just the latest disagreement between Brussels and Hungary’s combative leader, who was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term in April and has sought close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the past.

 

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