Hungary blocks EU sanctions against Russian patriarch

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Patriarch Kirill (r) maintains close contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin. © Sergei Chirikov / EPA / dpa

The road to the sixth major EU sanctions package against Russia is finally clear. But at the last second, Hungary is pushing through all the people through further changes and ensuring that a prominent person is spared.

Brussels – The EU has decided not to impose sanctions on the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, due to Hungary’s opposition.

The sixth EU sanctions package, which also includes a comprehensive oil embargo, was approved by representatives of the 27 EU states without the actually planned sanctions against Kirill. Because a unanimous decision was needed, the other 26 countries could not win over Hungary.

Kirill should actually be on the EU sanctions list because of his support for Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. He maintains close contact with President Vladimir Putin and has so far been very loyal to the Kremlin. In his sermons, the 75-year-old repeatedly backed the course of the war, recently even claiming that Russia had never attacked another country.

Orban: “The issue of religious freedom”

However, Hungary has refused to accept the sanctions, which include an EU ban on entry and economic freezes. Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently justified his position “with the issue of the religious freedom of the Hungarian religious communities”. This is “holy and inalienable”.

Observers in Budapest, on the other hand, see Orban’s involvement with the Moscow patriarch primarily as a result of ideological similarities. “Almost everything Orban did in terms of exercising power in Hungary bears the imprints of ‘Made in Russia,'” writes Budapest historian Krisztian Ungvary. Like Putin, Orban abolished university autonomy, launched a campaign against the rights of gays and transgender people, eliminated independent media, and put critical civilian organizations under pressure.

In Brussels, it is also pointed out that there are only a few thousand Orthodox believers in Hungary. And only some of them belong to the Orthodox community committed to the Moscow Patriarchate. The second part belongs canonically to the metropolis of Vienna, which in turn is subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul).

Close relationship with Patriarch Kirill

At the same time, however, Orban has given the “Moscow” Orthodox a lot of money in recent years. The Orthodox Church of Our Lady in the center of Budapest is being renovated at great cost. Orban even had a million euros left over from the state treasury to build his own Orthodox church in the southwestern Hungarian spa town of Heviz. Until the Ukraine War, Heviz was a popular holiday destination for well-to-do Russians.

It was also unusual for Kirill last month to warmly congratulate the head of government of a non-Orthodox EU country on his re-election. “You are one of the few European politicians who, during their work, make a remarkable effort to uphold Christian values ​​and strengthen the norms of public morality and the institution of the traditional family,” Kirill wrote to Orban.

The Hungarian has a far better relationship with the Moscow patriarch than with Pope Francis in Rome. In February, he said in his annual State of the Union speech: “Christian Europe is in great distress because of its own internal weaknesses and external blows. It seems that Latin (Western) Christianity in Europe can no longer “Without an alliance with orthodoxy, with Eastern Christianity, we will hardly survive the coming decades.”

Consequences for Budapest?

Meanwhile, diplomats in Brussels point out that Orban’s blockade policy could have serious consequences for his country. It is not considered impossible that former allies such as Poland, out of irritation, will abandon their previous opposition to moving forward with the so-called Article 7 procedure. This was initiated by the EU a few years ago due to concerns about the rule of law and may even lead to the withdrawal of Hungarian voting rights in EU decisions. The country would then no longer be able to block EU sanctions against Russia.

According to EU diplomats, a number of countries were extremely outraged by the renewed blockade of Hungary on Thursday. This calls into question the unity of the EU in dealing with Russia and overshadows the fact that a very effective sanctions package has actually been launched. The government in Budapest, on the other hand, was satisfied. Hungary has fought a long battle, government spokesman Zoltan Kovac’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto was quoted as saying on Twitter. But it was worth it, and the sanctions package is now compatible with Hungary’s national security interests.

Specifically, in addition to the oil embargo, the sixth EU sanctions package allows for the exclusion of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, from Swift’s financial communications network. In addition, several Russian news channels are to be banned in the EU.

The economically particularly relevant boycott of oil supplies from Russia aims to prevent oil from entering the EU by sea in the coming year. Only Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are allowed to import Russian oil via the Druzhba pipeline so far due to their high dependence.

Von der Leyen: About 90 percent less oil from Russia by the end of 2022

According to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the EU will buy about 90 percent less oil from Russia by the end of the year, despite the exemption for pipeline supplies. According to estimates by the EU think tank Bruegel, until recently, EU countries spent around 450 million euros a day on oil from Russia and 400 million euros on gas from Russia.

The formal decision on the sanctions package is scheduled for Friday. It can then be published in the Official Journal and enter into force. dpa

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