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One man stands between Europe and a ban on Russian oil: Hungary's Viktor Orban

By Christopher Dean Hopkins
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives his an international press conference April 6, days after his FIDESZ party won the parliamentary election, in the Karmelita monastery housing the prime minister's office in Budapest. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP via Getty Images)

The European Union would like to ban imports of Russian oil in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine, but there's one major obstacle to that effort: Hungary and its prime minister, Viktor Orban.

The move would have to be adopted unanimously to take effect, and so far, Orban has refused to get on board. Negotiations are ongoing.

There are economic reasons for Hungary's refusal, said András Simonyi, a former Hungarian ambassador to the United States who is now with the Atlantic Council.

"The Hungarian oil industry, the Hungarian so-called national oil company, MOL, is dependent on Russia imports for its production," he tells Morning Edition.

But there are also clearly political aspects to the situation, Simonyi adds, starting with the affinity for Putin and Russia's oligarchic regime held by the populist Orban. And Simonyi says there are other factors that might make Orban's government less cooperative with the rest of Europe.

"He has had his own problems unrelated to the Ukraine crisis with the European Commission, related to the rule of law and the state of democracy in Hungary," Simonyi says.

Like Putin, Orban has leveraged his political strength — his party holds a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian legislature — to suppress his country's press and the arts as well as crack down on its LGBTQ population.

Listen to the full interview.


This story first appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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Dive Deeper:
Hungary's Orban hands ex-aide, finance minister economic challenge
Hungary's Prime Minister on Friday put former central banker Marton Nagy and finance minister Mihaly Varga in charge of tackling…
Tensions over Hungary’s refusal to back more energy sanctions could see EU shelve ban on Russian oil
Brussels could shelve its plans for an embargo on Russia oil imports amid mounting tensions over the bloc’s attempts to…
Hungary's new president condemns Putin's 'aggression', plans trip to Warsaw
Hungary's President Katalin Novak at her inauguration ceremony on Saturday condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and said her first trip…
EU insists Russia oil embargo will go ahead
BRUSSELS: The European Union still aims to agree on a phased embargo on Russia oil this month despite concerns about…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
EU oil ban adds pressure on Russia but obstacles remain: Analysts
For a complete embargo to be successful, the bloc has yet to convince countries which rely more heavily on Moscow.
Russia-Ukraine war: What happened today (May 12)
A roundup of key developments and the latest in-depth coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Get all your news in one place