Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia's Orthodox Church, will be excluded from the latest package of EU sanctions against Russia after Hungary's objection, three diplomats have told Euronews.
Brussels accuses Patriarch Kirill of supporting the invasion of Ukraine and acting as a propagandist for Vladimir Putin’s regime.
In a sermon delivered in early May, Kirill stated that "Russia has never attacked anyone" and that "we don't want to go to war".
"It is amazing that a great and mighty country has never attacked anyone - it has only defended its borders," he added.
Hungary repeatedly said it was against the blacklist, calling it an issue of religious freedom.
"[Our] position on the Patriarch had been known for long," tweeted Hungarian spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs.
Blacklisting entails an asset freeze and a travel ban. Since the start of the Ukraine war, the EU has targeted 1,093 individuals considered to play a role in undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The new raft of sanctions, which includes a partial ban on Russian oil imports, received the political backing of EU leaders earlier this week, leaving it to ambassadors to negotiate the technical details and put the finishing touches.
It was during these discussions that Hungary brought back its adamant opposition, which it maintained until the name of Kirill was removed from the list.
"Hostage policy," a diplomat said.
This marks Hungary’s second political victory this week: on Monday, Viktor Orbán secured an indefinite exemption for oil pipelines in exchange for approving the seaborne oil embargo.
"The package is bigger than the listing," another diplomat said, noting there was "disappointment and frustration" around the table towards Hungary.
Ambassadors decided to grant Hungary's concession as a way to allow the full package, which was unveiled almost a month ago, to move forward.
EU sanctions require the unanimity of all 27 member states.
"With this unnecessary stunt, Hungary has lost the bit of goodwill that was left among its peers in Central and Eastern Europe," another diplomat said. "The country has never before been so isolated."
Hungary also demanded a three-year-long derogation for selling refined products made from Russian oil, but this request was struck down.
The sixth package of sanctions will enter into force once the definitive version has been published in the EU’s Official Journal.