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Patriarch Kirill escapes EU sanctions thanks to Orbán’s intervention

03 June 2022

Alamy

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at a concert marking a day of Slavic literature and culture in Red Square last week

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at a concert marking a day of Slavic literature and culture in Red Square last week

PATRIARCH KIRILL of Moscow has been removed from an EU-sanctions list of Kremlin-associates after a last-minute intervention by the government in Hungary. The intervention took place during a meeting of EU member-state ambassadors in Brussels on Thursday.

Hungary’s move surprised diplomats: ambassadors believed that consensus on the package’s provisions — the EU’s latest response to Russian aggression in Ukraine — had been reached at an extraordinary summit of EU Heads of Government on Monday. Diplomats assumed that the Thursday meeting was merely to formalise the agreement and make technical arrangements for the imposition of the new, wider sanctions.

For some hours, however, the whole list of sanctioned individuals was in doubt, as Hungary’s representative refused to accept the package unless Patriarch Kirill’s name was removed.

The sanctions package, the EU’s sixth in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, covered both personal measures against leading figures in the Russian regime (freezing their assets and banning them from travel in the EU), and corporate moves to severely restrict imports of Russian oil to the EU single market.

The package had already been delayed by several weeks, after objections by central European states, led by Hungary. Their objections, they said, hinged on difficulties in adjusting refinery systems to handle non-Russian crude-oil and source affordable replacements.

These objections were resolved on Monday via a loosely worded “temporary” exemption for central European states, allowing them to continue to import oil delivered by pipeline but not by sea, and to set their own timetables to phase-out Russian oil.

No reference was made on Monday to the inclusion of Patriarch Kirill’s name in the list of sanctioned individuals by the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Rumours began to emerge early on Thursday, however, and these were confirmed by Zoltán Kovács, state secretary for international communications.

In a statement posted on his official page, Mr Kovács wrote: “Patriarch Kirill is a religious leader. Respecting fundamental principles of religious freedom, the government of Hungary considers it inappropriate for the EU to include his name among those who would be specifically sanctioned.”

Mr Kovács went on: “Hungary’s position on the possible EU sanctions against Russian Patriarch Kirill has long been well known, and no one at the [Monday] EU summit spoke out against Hungary’s position.”

Early on Thursday evening, several hours after the expected announcement, the other member states agreed to accede to Hungary’s demand, and deleted Patriarch Kirill’s name from the list.

Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, greeted the news, saying that it has been a “long battle, but it was worth it. [With] the exception of pipeline transfers added and Patriarch Kirill’s name removed, the package is now in line with Hungary’s national security interests.”

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