The European Union has shown its first signs of internal divisions with its latest sanctions package against Russia, as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban reluctantly agreed to a watered-down ban on Russian oil imports. While the EU was heading for a full ban on Russian oil, Prime Minister Orban – a friend of Vladimir Putin’s – demanded an exception for Hungary, which he got. The EU bloc eventually agreed to cut around 90 percent of oil imports from Russia by the end of the year, with an immediate impact on 75 percent of Russian oil imports. If the deal was hailed as a “remarkable achievement”, the New Statesman’s US editor Emily Tankin warned that Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are keeping a close eye on how EU leaders will keep up with existing sanctions amid the energy and cost-of-living crises.
Speaking on the New Statesman’s World Review podcast, Ms Tankin said: “I think the key issue now is the extent to which they’re going to be able to stay with that.
“Because Putin will absolutely have factored into his thinking here what would be the Western response and could Russia withstand the economic pain longer than Europe could.
“Would there be a clammer from the European domestic population?
“And particularly as we get into the autumn and the winter months, there’s already a cost-of-living crisis if there are going to be dramatic increases in energy costs, perhaps energy shortages.
“I think the thinking in the Kremlin will have been that Europe will crack first. And Russia will be able to withstand that pain for longer.
“If there are already signs of divisions, that’s just very encouraging to Putin.”
“And that’s also encouraging to other authoritarian leaders and for instance the Chinese Communist Party leadership who are looking at the European Union reaction to understand what the likely response to any Chinese military action in the future would be”, Ms Tankin said.
“It is very encouraging to see this near agreement on cutting off at least oil imports by sea.
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“But it could not be more critical for everybody who wants this to end at the negotiating table and who wants Putin to quickly enter peace talks to keep up that resolve and to redouble these efforts.
“Because failing to do that is only going to make this a much longer, much more painful, much more devastating war.”
Reflecting on the EU’s unity in the past few months, Ms Tankin said: “I think, I’m sure that the Kremlin has been surprised by the extent to which the unity and the resolve from European Union leaders had been holding up by and large to date.
“I think the kind of narrative you would’ve heard from both high-level Russian and Chinese officials before the war in Ukraine was that there were such deep political divisions.
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“There’s so much domestic polarisation, there’s so much dependence on Russian oil and gas, on business contracts with China that there would be a real reluctance by the EU to take meaningful action.”
“And that perhaps they could’ve relied on this sort of divided decadent unable to reach an agreement perception of the EU”, Ms Tankin added.
“That is sometimes the perception in these capitals.
“So, I think they will have been surprised by the extent to which they were able to get behind significant, serious sanctions rapidly.”