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EU mulls diluting Russian oil ban to get Hungary on board

A tentative compromise is being hashed out among EU countries over plans to sanction Russian oil imports, in an attempt to find a way forward that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will support, diplomats said.

For the past month, Orbán has blocked an agreement on banning imports of Russian crude and refined fuels on the grounds that such action would deliver a severe blow to Hungary’s economy.

Now diplomats are weighing up an option that would water down the original proposal for a complete ban on all imports of Russian oil, and focus instead, at least temporarily, only on supplies delivered to the bloc by ship. That would leave landlocked Hungary — among other countries including Germany and Slovakia — able to keep buying Russian crude pumped through pipelines.

The potential compromise, first revealed by POLITICO earlier this week, would be a partial defeat for leaders including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who wanted the toughest possible action to cut off Putin’s cash flow from oil sales.

Some diplomats say that any compromise plan will all depend on the details. One said any exemptions must be “as narrow and precise as possible” to get agreement. “We can’t have an embargo that is basically a patchwork of exemptions. An exemption on pipeline oil from the embargo means that a small number of member states will bear the brunt of the impact of energy sanctions.”

But after weeks of failure to reach an agreement on the EU’s sixth package of Russia sanctions, other countries including even hawkish ones such as Poland, seem willing to contemplate only a partial ban on oil imports, according to people familiar with the talks.

According to people familiar with the discussion, maritime member countries such as Greece would also be comfortable with the proposed compromise but would want to see the fine print before approving the plan.

Discussions are ongoing among diplomats and no deal has been agreed yet. Further talks are expected over the weekend, ahead of a summit of EU leaders taking place in Brussels on May 30-31.

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