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EU sanctions deal could still be weeks away, Borrell says

It could take another two weeks before the European Union is able to agree on a plan to sanction Russia’s lucrative oil industry, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday.

While most countries are on board, Hungary is holding up a deal on a proposal to ban all imports of Russian crude and refined fuels, on the grounds that such a step would deal a massive blow to the Hungarian economy.

Speaking after a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Borrell said Hungary needs time to adapt its energy systems and money to pay for new infrastructure and more expensive alternatives to Russian oil.

Asked by POLITICO if it could take days or weeks for the EU to agree to sanctioning Russian oil, Borrell said: “I hope it’s not going to last more, but I cannot tell you if it’s going to take one week or two.”

Borrell said he wanted ministers to discuss the sanctions package today but the difficulties were too technical to be resolved at a political level. The package will be sent back to diplomats for more detailed discussion, he said.

EU countries say they are committed to sanctioning Vladimir Putin’s oil industry as a way to cut off a major source of income that’s helping to fund his war in Ukraine. The European Commission proposed the bloc’s sixth package of Russia sanctions on May 4.

But so far, countries have failed to sign off on the plan, which requires their unanimous approval. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has likened the economic impact on his country of banning Russian oil to a “nuclear bomb.”

One of the informal talking points among foreign ministers and their teams attending the meeting was whether a deal will be reached by the next European Council leaders’ summit, at the end of May.

Two diplomats even privately questioned whether a deal will be reached at all. “At this point I’m not sure anymore of anything,” one said.

Yet Borrell sounded optimistic that the main obstacle is practical and not political. “Hungary has not explained their position on political terms, but in economic terms,” he said.

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