Ukraine war: Hungary comparing EU sanctions on Russia to bombs is 'inappropriate'

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By Alice Tidey
A man passes by a poster depicting a bomb reading "We are being punished by the Brussels sanctions", in Budapest on October 18, 2022
A man passes by a poster depicting a bomb reading "We are being punished by the Brussels sanctions", in Budapest on October 18, 2022   -   Copyright  FERENC ISZA / AFP

The European Commission denounced Hungary's poster campaign comparing EU sanctions on Russia to bombs as "inappropriate" on Wednesday.

The Hungarian government has been promoting a "national consultation" on the sanctions with a poster campaign featuring pictures of bombs as "sanctions".

"It is inappropriate to show pictures of bombs or of missiles in relation to the sanctions, thinking that the aim of the sanctions is precisely to stop the bombs from falling on Ukraine," Dana Spinant, the European Commission's deputy chief spokesperson, told reporters.

The EU has so far imposed eight rounds of sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, targeting imports of Russian coal, oil, steel, and wood in addition to a ban on exporting certain high-tech products to Russia in a bid to derail its ability to fund the war.

Viktor Orban, the populist far-right Prime Minister, has increasingly decried the sanctions as having a larger impact on European economies than their intended target. In May, he said that sanctions on Russian oil would have the effect of a "nuclear bomb" on his country's economy.

EU sanctions have to be approved unanimously, meaning Hungary has approved each package. But Budapest has used its veto power to carve out some exceptions, most notably on the bloc's oil embargo.

Hungary also blocked adding Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a staunch ally of President Vladimir Putin, to the sanctions list. It recently struck a new supply deal with Russian gas giant Gazprom despite calls around the EU to reduce dependence on Russian energy supplies.

It argues the so-called "national consultation" on sanctions is the first in an EU country to enable its citizens to voice their opinion in a bid to give credence to its view that Europeans are against sanctions.

The posters to promote the consultation, which is neither a formal referendum nor legally binding, released by the government depict a missile with "sanctions" emblazoned on it and the tagline: "Brussels sanctions, they are ripping us off."

The questionnaire, which Hungarians can fill in at home and drop into mailboxes, has however been described by some as leading. 

"Here are the questions from Hungary's next consultation on Brussels' failed sanctions," the questionnaire opens with.

The EU restrictive measures are described in the seven questions as "Brussels sanctions" or emanating from "Brussels leaders".

Hungarian citizens are being asked if they agree with the "Brussels oil sanctions" - despite the significant carve-out Hungary secured -- as well as possible sanctions on natural gas supplies, nuclear fuel, and tourism. 

"The number of tourists from Russia has dropped significantly. This measure also affects Hungary, especially as the numbers of visitors from abroad are still below pre-pandemic levels. This sector provides work for hundreds of thousands of people in our country," it states.

EU countries are currently debating how to bring the price of gas down but there is for now, no plan to impose sanctions on nuclear fuels.

Meanwhile, although short-term visas are not banned for Russian citizens, the European Commission has called for their number to be sharply reduced citing security reasons but visa applications are states' responsibilities.

The national consultation is open until December 9, 2022.