Hungary’s foreign minister strongly criticized the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, arguing they have damaged its members’ economies more than their target’s as well as failing to stop the war in Ukraine.
“If we make an assessment, an analysis, about the impact of sanctions, it’s obvious that they have not fulfilled expectations,” Péter Szijjártó told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“Because what was the expectation at the beginning of March, end of February, when we discussed the first package of sanctions? That they will put Russia’s economy on its knees, therefore the war will be stopped soon,” he said.
Sanctions imposed by the EU against Russia include travel bans and asset freezes on a host of high-profile individuals; import and export bans on a range of goods; and an oil price cap in collaboration with the G-7 and other allies. The bloc has also aimed to dramatically cut its natural gas imports from Russia.
Szijjártó continued: “Russia’s economy is not on its knees, definitely. We can have different assessments of how badly they perform but they’re not on their knees, and the war is not coming to its end. And Europe’s economy is suffering more from sanctions than the Russian economy.”
“So if you look at it in a practical way, not in an ideological way, what was the impact of sanctions, you see they are more harmful to Europe than Russia. So we should not more forward with the sanctions because simply they have not fulfilled the expectations and target we have put on them.”
The Russian ruble was the worst-performing emerging market currency last year despite holding up for some time after the invasion of Ukraine, and the International Monetary Fund has forecast its GDP will shrink by 3.4% in 2022 with inflation averaging 13.8%, with a further economic contraction this year.
Recent research from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, an independent Finnish think tank, estimated the G-7′s price cap had cost Moscow an estimated 160 million euros ($171.8 million) per day.
The war and resultant energy crisis and food supply have also driven up inflation in EU countries and raised the specter of recession, though other factors including the impact of the pandemic on workforces and supply chain issues have also been raised as factors.
Szijjártó said Hungary condemned the war and was standing with Ukraine, but reiterated that he does not believe sanctions are the path to peace.
“At the end of the day, we have to contribute to help reconstruct Ukraine, but if we ruin our own economies we will not be in a position to help Ukraine be reconstructed,” he said.
Asked why Hungary therefore voted in favor of sanctions, he said it had achieved exemptions in areas that were vital to its national interests, such as purchases of oil and gas because it cannot import from other sources due to pipeline infrastructure.
Szijjártó defended Hungary’s decision not to send weapons to Ukraine, as western powers including the U.S. have been doing and which the leaders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania on Tuesday argued should be increased.
He said it had instead chosen to provide humanitarian assistance to the 1 million Ukrainian refugees that have arrived in the country and would advocate for peace talks, as it did not want the Hungarian community based at the border between the countries to be targeted in the war.
Szijjártó also accused the European Union of withholding money owed to it through European funds tied to bloc-wide economic performance because of, he said “political reasons … because Brussels hates that there is an anti-mainstream, right-wing, patriotic, Christian democratic government in Hungary for more than 12 years now, and it is still successful.”
The European Commission directed CNBC to a comment spokesperson Peter Stano gave regarding Hungary and sanctions on Monday, stating: “All the sanctions decisions in the EU are made by member states in unanimity.”
“Until now the European Union member states have adopted nine wide-ranging packages of sanctions against Russia for its illegal aggression against Ukraine, reflecting on EU policy agreed by the 27 member states that we stand by Ukraine and we stand by them in a number of tracks, economical, financial, military and through putting pressure on Putin’s regime through sanctions and international isolation.”
Stano said these were constantly being reviewed and any future decision would again by in unanimity.