Update(10:24ET): The European Union has once again reportedly backed off a more hardline position in its newest anti-Russia sanctions package based on the objections of Viktor Orban.
According to news wires, the sanctions deal has been approved after a measure that imposed individual sanctions on Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has been removed. Hungary's Orban had rejected the move which he argued threatens religious freedom. Importantly, the partial Russian oil embargo has been approved. Bloomberg reports:
The European Union approved a sixth package of sanctions including a partial ban on Russian oil imports after Hungary dropped objections that had been holding it up for weeks.
EU ambassadors meeting on Thursday backed the measures, which would represent the EU’s toughest yet and are aimed at curbing Russia’s ability to finance the war in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.
The measures would forbid the purchase of crude oil from Russia delivered to member states by sea in six months and refined petroleum products in eight months. Pipeline crude would be temporarily spared as a concession to Hungary and other landlocked countries, which rely on Russian supplies through the Druzhba pipeline.
Earlier, Politico detailed that Orban has long been on record as saying this is a religious freedom matter, and that the precedent of sanctioning top religious figures cannot be set with the new sanctions package.
Hungary has introduced a surprise demand for EU leaders.— POLITICOEurope (@POLITICOEurope) June 2, 2022
Just days after plans for new sanctions against Moscow were agreed, Budapest has now asked that Patriarch Kirill — the head of the Russian Orthodox Church - be exempt from them.https://t.co/LgQNDSEsI9
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Hungary stalled the EU’s latest sanctions package against Russia over objection to the sanctioning of Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Earlier this week, the EU agreed on principle on a new sanctions package that includes a Russian oil ban with exemptions for pipeline deliveries to Hungary and other land-locked nations.
EU officials met Wednesday night to finalize the deal and turn it into law, but Hungary insisted that the sanctions against Patriarch Kirill must be dropped. "Agreement is held up because Hungary is objecting to sanctions on Patriarch Kirill," an EU diplomat said, according to Al Jazeera.
More talks were expected to be held later on Wednesday night, but as of early Thursday morning in Brussels, there has been no word of the EU agreeing on the finalized version of the sanctions package.
According to Reuters, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long made his stance on sanctioning the Russian church leader known:
Hungary's opposition to potential EU sanctions against the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, "has been known for a long time," Prime Minister Viktor Orban's press chief told state news agency MTI on Thursday.
"We will not allow the inclusion of church leaders in the sanctions list," Orban reiterated this week in a radio interview, stressing that religious freedom must be protected as a "sacred issue."
The EU’s planned Russian oil ban will prohibit deliveries from Russian ships. While it has exemptions for pipeline deliveries, EU officials said the ban will cut around 90% of the EU’s oil imports from Russia.
The sanctions are meant to hurt Russia, but as the EU has been preparing the ban, Moscow has been busy finding other markets and is now shipping more than twice the amount of oil it was before the invasion of Ukraine. More shipments have been going to China and India, and now Asia has surpassed Europe as the top buyer of Russian oil.