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Ukraine war: Sanctions on Russian oil and gas a 'red line' for Hungary, says Orban

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban acknowledges cheering supporters during an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, April 3, 2022.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban acknowledges cheering supporters during an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, April 3, 2022. Copyright AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Copyright AP Photo/Petr David Josek
By Alice Tidey
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Hungary will block any EU attempts to put sanctions on Russian oil and gas imported into the bloc.

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Hungary's newly re-elected prime minister, Viktor Orban, stressed on Wednesday that Hungary will block any attempt by the EU to extend sanctions to Russian oil and gas.

He also dismissed the rule of law spat with Brussels.

Orban secured a fourth term at the helm of the country in Sunday's legislative election as his nationalist-populist Fidesz party gathered more than 53% of the vote and obtained a two-thirds parliamentary "super-majority."

'It will kill Hungary'

The pro-Russian leader, seen as an ally to President Vladimir Putin, said that as with fellow EU member states, he puts the blame for the war on Moscow, describing it as the "aggressor" and calling for "atrocities against civilians" to be strongly condemned and investigated.

On sanctions against Russia, he said Budapest has so far backed the different rounds, because "unity (in the EU) is important" but warned that extending sanctions to include the oil and gas sectors is "a red line".

"It will kill Hungary," he argued, adding that the sanctions are also significantly damaging the European economy.

He called on Brussels to take "immediate action" to mitigate the impact sanctions are having on energy prices and said that Hungary is prepared to pay for Russian energy products in roubles if asked to do so.

The Kremlin has passed a decree demanding foreign buyers pay in the domestic currency as sanctions have largely disconnected Russian banks from global systems and frozen the Russian Central Bank's foreign reserves.

Orban also defended his action with Putin and said he invited him, along with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Olaf Scholz, to meet in Budapest to discuss a possible armistice or ceasefire.

"The response was positive but the Russian President says he has certain conditions," he added, without elaborating on these.

He also reiterated that Hungary will not provide any weapons to Ukraine and rebuked Zelenskyy, who on Sunday had criticised Western leaders, namechecking Orban, for not providing Ukraine with certain weapons including fighter jets, tanks, and anti-missile systems.

President Zelenskyy "has a bad habit of telling everyone what to do," Orban told reporters. "It would be better if he dropped that habit. It's unusual for someone in trouble to ask for help and tell you to help him, and if you don't help him, he'll tell you off."

'No outstanding issues' with EU over rule of law

Orban, who has built his career on Brussels-bashing while pocketing EU money, spoke a day after Ursula von der Leyen poured cold water on his election victory by announcing that the European Commission will send a letter of notification to Budapest about triggering the rule of law mechanism.

This could see EU funds withheld from Hungary over rule of law breaches.

The Hungarian prime minister said however: "I'd like to see that letter, all the more so because I don't actually understand the situation."

Von der Leyen had said in her address to MEPs on Tuesday that Brussels and Budapest have "not been able to find common ground" on how to tackle corruption in the country.

Orban said he did "not know of any outstanding issues" and that "it's just not true, we have agreed on all these issues".

Regarding Article 7 proceedings, launched by the Commission in 2018 against Warsaw and Budapest and that open the door to possible sanctions including a suspension of voting rights on the European Council, Orban confirmed that "with the Polish, we are in a mutual defensive alliance. We will not allow each other to be excluded from European decision-making".

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The procedures have stalled because sanctions required unanimity among leaders.

Orban, who has in the past thinly referred to a possible Huxit in the hope of pressuring the bloc into caving to his demand, stressed on Wednesday that "we imagine our future in the EU".

He pledged to "actively participate in forming the EU of the future" and also spoke of stronger ties with NATO, of which Hungary is a member.

_Orban's comments came at a press conference involving international media on Wednesday. Read below how the event unfolded. _

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