Hungary is threatening to block the continuation of some of the European Union’s sanctions against Moscow if three oligarchs are not removed from a sanctions list of more than 1,000 names that was introduced after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, Radio Free Europe reported.
According to several diplomatic sources, the three oligarchs Budapest wants to see removed from the visa ban and asset freeze list are Alisher Usmanov, Pyotr Aven and Viktor Rashnikov.
The Hungarian request comes at a time when the European Union is preparing to renew for another six months the list of persons under sanctions. EU ambassadors are due to discuss the issue on September 7, ahead of the September 15 deadline for its extension.
The list, which can only be changed by unanimous vote, currently consists of 1,217 individuals and 108 organizations. It was expanded during the year with the strengthening of restrictive measures against Moscow by Brussels. Usmanov and Aven were added to the circle of those sanctioned at the end of February.
The EU’s official newspaper called Usmanov “a pro-Kremlin oligarch with particularly close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.” He has been described as one of “Putin’s favorite oligarchs” and is believed to be an intermediary in the president’s business affairs.
The sanctions have already led to the seizure of the world’s largest yacht worth $600 million, which has been linked to Usmanov.
About Aven, the EU points out that he “is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.”
Rashnikov was added to the list in March, with Brussels describing him as “a leading Russian oligarch who is the owner and chairman of the board of directors of the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works (MMK) company.” MMK is one of Russia’s largest taxpayers .
In addition to the removal of the three Budapest oligarchs, there are also other demands – that humanitarian organizations be allowed to work with Russian banks, which are currently under sanctions.
According to media speculation in Brussels, Hungary is trying to use the moment of the renewal of sanctions against Russia as a tool to force Brussels to approve European funds for Budapest, which have been withheld until now due to concerns about violating the rule of law.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government have clashed with the EU several times in recent years over corruption, migration, LGBT rights and democratic standards. The European Commission has refused to approve Hungary’s recovery plan, accusing Orbán’s government of undermining the rule of law.
Orban himself has been critical of the EU’s stance on Moscow during the Ukraine war, saying sanctions have hurt the bloc without weakening Russia or helping Kyiv. Budapest also defied Brussels on the issue of paying for Russian gas in rubles and did not allow Western arms deliveries to Kyiv to pass through Hungarian territory.