June 23. 2024. 1:22

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US sanctions leaders of Russian bank, warns Hungary over ties with Moscow

The United States imposed sanctions on three top officials of the Russian-controlled International Investment Bank in Budapest on Wednesday (12 April) after it said Hungary had ignored US concerns raised over the “opaque Kremlin platform”.

The three names added to the US sanctions list are Russian nationals Nikolay Kosov, the bank’s former chairman, and Georgy Potapov, as well as Hungarian national Imre Laszloczki, the latter two high-ranking officials on the IIB’s management board.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia ended their participation in the IIB. The Hungarian government took no measures against the bank, which moved operations to Budapest in 2019.

Hungary, a NATO and European Union member, has fostered good ties with Moscow since 2010 under nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has avoided personal criticism of President Vladimir Putin despite condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His stance has been criticised by US and European allies.

“The presence of this opaque Kremlin platform (IIB) in the heart of Hungary threatens the security and sovereignty of the Hungarian people, their European neighbours, and their NATO allies,” US Ambassador to Budapest David Pressman told a news conference in Budapest after the announcement.

Pressman said the US had raised concerns over the presence of the bank but that unlike other NATO allies, Orbán’s government dismissed these concerns and remained committed to hosting the IIB.

“We have concerns about the continued eagerness of Hungarian leaders to expand and deepen ties with the Russian Federation despite Russia’s ongoing brutal aggression against Ukraine and threat to transatlantic security,” Pressman said.

“With this announcement, the United States is demonstrating that we will take action in response to Hungary’s choices and to curb the access of Russia and sanctioned Russian persons to the international financial system.”

The Hungarian government’s chief spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.

A US Treasury statement said the IIB’s presence in Budapest had enabled Russia to enhance its intelligence presence in Europe and “could serve as a mechanism for corruption and illicit finance, including sanctions violations”.

Landlocked Hungary is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas and crude oil imports, and it has criticised EU sanctions on Russia, saying they have failed to weaken Moscow meaningfully while risking destroying the European economy.

Shortly before Wednesday’s US announcement, Orbán’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, accused the US Embassy of directly campaigning for a change in Hungary’s stance on Russia.

“In recent days, in the streets, everyone has been confronted with the fact that it is no longer the opposition that is campaigning with US money, but the US Embassy directly campaigned in Hungary,” Gulyas said, in comments posted on Twitter by a government spokesman.

“The US has not given up trying to squeeze Hungary into the pro-war position shared by many of our allies, but Hungary remains convinced that peace is the only common interest.”

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó visited Moscow this week for talks on gas and oil supplies, and an ongoing project by Rosatom to expand Hungary’s nuclear plant.

Hungary agrees additional Russian gas shipments, oil transit fees

Hungary’s foreign minister said on Tuesday (11 April) that Russian energy giant Gazprom would maintain an option to supply additional gas to Hungary this year on top of the shipments agreed under a long-term deal.