by William Nattrass
Thursday, 5
May 2022
Analysis
10:00

Unity on Ukraine is crumbling in Eastern Europe

Concerns over NATO expansion and oil embargoes are dividing EU countries
by William Nattrass
Credit: Getty

Croatian President Zoran Milanović’s intervention on the possible accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO was anything but diplomatic.  

“I will be chasing the sinful souls of every parliament member who votes in favour like the devil” was his warning to Croatian lawmakers expected to back Sweden and Finland’s anticipated membership application. Milanović said that if called upon as head of state to represent Croatia in NATO discussions, he would veto the two countries’ admission. 

Milanović argues that before NATO admits any more members in the name of western solidarity, it should first pressure Bosnia and Herzegovina to change its election law and “give (Bosnian) Croats their fundamental rights.” The Croatian government claims Croats are not properly represented in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency and condemned elections coming in the country this October as “illegitimate.”  

On the substance, questions of Finnish-Swedish NATO membership and elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina — not even a NATO member state — are completely unrelated. Croatia’s Prime Minister lambasted Milanović for a “perfidious” attempt to make one issue conditional on the other. Yet the row is symptomatic of a growing dissonance between supposed international unity in the face of Russian revanchism, and nation-level concerns in eastern Europe. 

As the Croatian President vented his frustration, sanctions on Russian oil proposed by the European Commission faced opposition from eastern EU member states which are heavily dependent on Moscow for energy. Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács confirmed on Wednesday that Hungary would veto EU sanctions on oil because they are “against Hungarian interests.” 

Hungary’s opposition to an oil ban led to howls of rage across the bloc, with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán widely condemned (not for the first time) as a traitor to the West. Yet the country’s stance is entirely in keeping with the pledge from its nationalist government to shield Hungarian citizens from the negative impacts of war in Ukraine. 

Hungarians would certainly feel the effects of a sudden end to Russian oil supplies: according to the International Energy Agency, 58% of Hungarian oil imports came from Russia in 2021. Slovakia, another Eastern European country with severe doubts about the proposed oil ban, received as much as 96% of its oil imports from Russia last year.  

Oil refineries are designed to process specific types of oil, so Slovakia and Hungary wouldn’t be able to switch suppliers overnight even if a viable replacement for Russian oil could be found. In the face of such realist objections, the EU offered Hungary and Slovakia the chance to keep buying Russian oil for another year, until the end of 2023. 

With Hungary shooting back that the bloc’s proposal still doesn’t protect its energy security, it’s now far from certain that the oil ban will become a reality. And the idea of deferring Hungarian and Slovak adherence to the sanctions presents its own set of difficulties: how would other EU nations dependent on Russian oil, such as the Netherlands, Greece, Poland and Finland, feel about inflicting more hardship on their citizens while the oil continues to flow to Hungary and Slovakia?  

Only time will tell, but as the West tries to take new steps in response to Russian aggression, the divide between national and international interests is getting wider.

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Michael K
Michael K
4 months ago

Strife, beautiful. Yet another step towards the dissolution of the EU. Solidarity between European countries, yes. Centralized government, no thanks.

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago
Reply to  Michael K

And another baby step towards WWIII, unfortunately.

martin logan
martin logan
4 months ago

It’s individual countries that make the difference, not unanimity. If Germany stops importing Russian oil, Hungary will not make up for it. And neither will Slovakia. Indeed, the latter two may well be able to buy at a discount, a la India.

Iris C
Iris C
4 months ago

Individual EU countries are answerable to their electorate for the decisions they take about their economies. I would have thought, therefore, that it was beyond the EU President’s remit to demand bans on oil and gas when such a ban would cause hardship to the voters in these countries.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
4 months ago

This article carefully avoids mentioning the 600 pound gorilla in the room: everyone knows that the Russian invasion was provoked by decades of Western provocation and interference in Ukraine and Russia.

Putin’s attack may well be an over-reaction, but the moral position of those pushing sanctions is in fact weak. And insisting that Hungary or Slovakia pay a real price in support of such a morally ambiguous position that was foisted on them is asking a lot, maybe too much.

Russell Caplan
Russell Caplan
4 months ago

Given the bellicose stance the EU has adopted in supporting US-NATO aggression against Russia in the theatre of Ukraine, one can only applaud those East European countries willing to put a spanner in the works of this economic assault on Russia. The stakes could not be higher.
President Macron’s much vaunted description of NATO as ‘brain dead’ during the Trump presidency, seems to have jumped its natural barrier like a zoonotic virus. The much admired sensible neutrality of Finland and Sweden appears to have succumbed to this metastasising malignancy called NATO that is threatening to engulf the world in an ever expanding war.
The Fins and Swedes appear to have become brain dead. Their demented reasoning for wanting to join NATO rests on a rejection of reality in favour of fantasy. They declare that Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine is an unprovoked attack. Such distortion of reality is either deliberately malign or pathological.
According to this view of the world there was no Western organised and backed coup in Ukraine that overthrew a democratically elected government to be replaced by an avowedly illegitimate anti Russian government; there was no civil war provoked by this anti Russian coup where the putchist Western backed government turned its military against its own people in eastern Ukraine in order to try enforce its authority, killing some 14,000 civilians over the past eight years; there was no UN Security Council sanctioned peace agreement, the Minsk accords that the Ukrainian government refused to implement at the urging of the US; there was no Russian appeal to the US and NATO to implement these Minsk peace accords and so bring an end to the civil war where the populations of the eastern breakaway regions were living in constant terror of bombardments from the Ukrainian military; there was no Russian appeal to the US and NATO to stop arming and training hostile Ukrainian forces right on Russia’s border; there was no Russian warning that if its appeals were not taken seriously and appropriately addressed, Russia would be left with no alternative but to take ‘technical military’ actions to prevent what it considers an existential threat.
Russia waited eight years while the US and NATO continued to expand its hostile footprint in Ukraine, a country that borders the Russian Federation. Only a person with half a brain, demented, or brain dead could describe Russia’s actions as unprovoked.
With such brain dead members its good to see at least a few willing to try and halt the spread of this NATO virus.

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago
Reply to  Russell Caplan

We now live in the metaverse, where anything goes and anything can become true. Welcome to hell.

Andrzej Wasniewski
Andrzej Wasniewski
4 months ago

Finland and Sweden can and are already cooperating with NATO on the defense of Europe and the Croatian president can do nothing to prevent it. And silly questions how would other nations feel knowing that Hungary is still using Russian oil? Finland and Poland in particular are pushing for more sanctions. And the population is fully aware that they may be a the next target if Putin is not stopped. Ignorance mixed with bunch of entirely unsupported conclusions.

Russell Caplan
Russell Caplan
4 months ago

If the populations of Sweden and Finland are so supportive of joining NATO, how come their leaders refuse to put the matter to a referendum. The brain dead Swedish prime-minister said that she did not want to polarise Swedish society by debating such a controversial issue. So much for ‘defending democracy’!