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21st Mar 2023

Hungary delays oil ban over Putin's patriarch

  • Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia (c) (Photo: Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy)
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Hungary is further delaying EU sanctions on Russia, now saying Europe must not blacklist Russian Orthodox Church head, patriarch Kirill.

The Hungarian ambassador issued the Kirill veto at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (1 June).

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It came as a surprise after Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán shook hands with EU leaders on a Russia sanctions deal at a summit on Monday without mentioning the patriarch, EU diplomats said.

Orbán had earlier held up the new EU sanctions already by insisting on carve-outs for Hungary's oil imports.

Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia — 75-year old Vladimir Gundayev from St Petersburg — was to be listed for calling Russia's war on Ukraine "a religious cleansing operation" and blessing Russian soldiers in sermons, according to an internal EU document from May seen by EUobserver.

He was just a symbolic part of the sanctions package, with a Russia oil embargo set to cost the Kremlin hundreds of billions of euros a year.

And internal EU talks will continue on Thursday to break the latest impasse.

But whether Kirill ends up staying on the EU list or not, the fresh delay was "embarrassing" for Europe's efforts to project unity and soured relations with Hungary, diplomats said.

"The French ambassador [who chaired Wednesday's meeting] insisted that it was too late in the process to introduce this kind of change," an EU diplomat said.

The meeting dragged on for hours and the atmosphere became "heated", a second diplomat said.

"They [Hungary] suddenly came out with it [the Kirill objection] without giving any real reasons," a third EU diplomat said.

"If you give them an inch, they'll take a yard. Orbán was emboldened by his oil deal," a fourth EU diplomat added, referring to Hungary's oil-embargo derogations. "It's time for Europe to say: enough!", the diplomat said.

The Hungarian foreign ministry did not reply to EUobserver's questions on Wednesday.

Orbán has a history of friendly ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

He is also facing EU sanctions for abusing rule of law in Hungary, which saw billions in European funding for Budapest frozen.

According to the internal EU document, the upcoming EU sanctions will also hit top Russian banks and TV propaganda channels.

They will impose a visa ban and asset freeze on the family of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and on dozens of Russian military commanders, citing Russian armed forces' "rape" and "torture" in Ukraine 46 times in the EU paper.

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