By KAREL JANICEK, JUSTIN SPIKE and DEREK GATOPOULOS, Associated Press
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Slovakia and Hungary said on Tuesday they would not support sanctions against Russian energy that the European Union is preparing over the war in Ukraine, saying they are too dependent on these supplies and that there is no immediate alternative.
The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, has drafted new sanctions proposals, which could include a gradual embargo on Russian oil. The 27 member countries are expected to start discussing it on Wednesday, but it could be several days before the measures take effect.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that the commission wanted to hit more banks, target those accused of spreading war disinformation and “go after oil imports”. It is not clear whether Slovakia and Hungary would benefit from exemptions.
Slovak Economy Minister Richard Sulik said the country’s only refiner, Slovnaft, could not immediately switch from Russian crude to another type of oil. Changing the technology would take several years, Sulik said.
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“So we will insist on the exemption, for sure,” Sulik told reporters.
Slovakia depends almost entirely on Russian oil which it receives via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline. Hungary is also heavily dependent, although Germany, another major energy importer, has said it could cope if the EU bans Russian oil, with officials still noting that “it’s a heavy burden to wear”.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the country would not vote for any sanctions “that would make it impossible to transport natural gas or oil from Russia to Hungary”.
“The point is simple, Hungary’s energy supply cannot be put at risk because no one can expect us to allow the price of war (in Ukraine) to be paid by the Hungarians,” he said. Szijjarto said Tuesday in Kazakhstan. “It is currently physically impossible for Hungary and its economy to function without Russian oil.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has earned a reputation as Putin’s closest ally in the EU and has maintained deep diplomatic and economic ties with Moscow. Orban reinforced his reliance on Russian fossil fuels, noting that 85% of Hungary’s gas and more than 60% of its oil come from Russia.
Despite disagreement among EU members over the new energy sanctions, European Council President Charles Michel has vowed to “break the Russian war machine” by driving countries on the continent away from Russian natural gas supplies.
The bloc is racing to secure alternative supplies to Russian energy, prioritizing global LNG imports from countries that include big producers like Algeria, Qatar and the United States.
This includes liquefied natural gas facilities being built in northern Greece, which Michel and leaders of four Balkan countries visited on Tuesday.
“We also sanction Russia for exerting financial, economic and political pressure on the Kremlin because our objective is simple: we must break the Russian war machine,” Michel said.
He met Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the leaders of Bulgaria, North Macedonia and non-NATO Serbia in the Greek port of Alexandroupolis. An LNG import terminal near the port city is expected to be commissioned next year.
LNG arriving by ship is becoming increasingly important as EU countries seek to shift away from Russian supplies. Last week, Russia cut off natural gas to Bulgaria and Poland over a demand for guaranteed ruble payments, in a growing dispute sparked by the invasion of Ukraine.
“That’s why this new LNG terminal is so timely and so important. It’s a geopolitical investment and it’s a geopolitical moment,” Michel said. “It reflects what more we need to do, because it will ensure security of supply for Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia and other countries in the region. And that is extremely important. “
Also present at the meetings were Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
“This is not just an energy project. It will change the energy map of Europe,” Petkov said. “The Balkans is a region of 65 million people, and we can do so much more.”
The LNG terminal is designed to handle some 6 billion cubic meters of gas per year, boosting non-Russian supply that reached the region in 2020 with the new trans-Adriatic pipeline from Azerbaijan to Italy.
A new interconnecting gas pipeline, fully linking the gas networks of Greece and Bulgaria, is to be launched next month. ___ Janicek reported from Prague and Gatopoulos from Athens, Greece. AP journalist Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this.
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