The ambassadors of the 27 before the EU have formally approved this Thursday the sixth package of sanctions against Russia that will impose a partial embargo on oil imports from 2023, add almost 70 new names to the EU blacklist and remove from the Swift international system to Sberbank, the country’s main financial institution. To do so, however, they have had to remove Kirik, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, as Hungary has been protecting him for weeks. The decision should have been made yesterday, but Viktor Orban has led the defense of the priest, one of Vladimir Putin’s main defenders and apologists of the Ukrainian invasion, and has made anything else impossible. Former gymnast Alina Kabaeva, considered a mistress of Putin, is among those punished.

Orban is the ‘winner’ of the last week. He obtained an exemption from the oil embargo, which will only affect crude exported by sea from 2023, but not that which arrives by pipeline. He has gotten away with it after weeks of blocking a decision, which was breaking unity and causing increasing friction. He has done it gloating, presuming that the price of hydrocarbons will be the same and that, in the event that something happens with the pipeline, he will be able to continue receiving supplies by other means. Its partners, resigned, have preferred a more than suboptimal solution to the alternative, which was to do it at 26. That, he argues, is a lesser evil, because between what will stop arriving by sea (two thirds of the total) and what will stop to buy Germany and Poland, which have committed in writing not to give more money since January, almost 90% of total imports will conclude this course.

“This sixth package significantly expands the sanctions against Russia to new areas and establishes in particular sanctions against members of the military and security apparatus, linked in particular to the Bucha massacres, entities in the industrial and technological sector linked to Russian aggression, oligarchs and Russian propagandists and members of their families”, explained the French presidency, which this semester coordinates the activities of the Council of the EU. “The package also includes the disconnection of three Russian banks, including Sberbank, and a Belarusian bank from the Swift system. Or the extension of export bans to Russia, in particular chemicals and high-tech products. As well as the veto to three Russian media outlets involved in the dissemination of propaganda and the prohibition of consulting services for Russian operators”, add the French diplomats.

The sixth package, the most complicated, arrives on the eve of the 100th day of the war. And the EU is in a difficult moment. On the one hand, the Hungarian position has shown that trying anything with gas right now is a pipe dream. On the other, kyiv asks more than ever for military aid, coordination and resistance against the Kremlin. There are among the 27 partners who prefer to take a break now with the sanctions, and not force a poorly oiled machinery. While Poland and the Baltics ask to redouble efforts. And the same thing happens with the mediation with Putin, with very critical members and others, the big four among them, in favor of using all avenues.

The heads of state and government did not discuss the sanctioned list in detail, despite the fact that Budapest has been saying for months that it would not allow the inclusion of Cirilo, despite the fact that there are no cultural, religious or personal reasons that explain that campaign . What has been interpreted by the rest of the ambassadors as the mere desire to annoy. Hungary systematically blocks Foreign Policy condemnations and sanctions, especially those affecting Israel and China. And also with Russia. Orban is Putin’s main lawyer in the EU, the one who tries to dilute sanctions, packages, measures, communications and diplomatic efforts. The governments thought that after achieving the oil exemption, the veto would be withdrawn from Kirikk or Cirilo, but this has not been the case and the Hungarian gets away with it again, at least temporarily.

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