Hungary is once again threatening to water down the European Union’s sanctions regime against Russia by insisting that nine people be removed from a list of restrictive measures imposed on more than 1,300 individuals and 170 entities during several rounds of action in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Budapest once again wants to see the removal from the visa-ban and asset-freeze list of Alisher Usmanov, Pyotr Aven, and Viktor Rashnikov, several diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter who aren’t authorized to speak on the record said on January 17.
Hungary attempted to remove the trio from the sanctions the last time the bloc’s restrictive measures were up for removal in September but quickly backtracked after political pressure.
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has long been critical of the EU’s stance toward Moscow during the conflict, saying the sanctions have hurt the bloc without weakening Russia or helping Ukraine.
The sanctions list must receive unanimous approval to be rolled over as the new renewal deadline approaches on March 15.
Hungary is also looking to remove Usmanov’s sister, Gulbahor Ismailova; Aven’s business partner, Mikhail Fridman; Belarusian-Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin; his son Nikita Mazepin; and Russian oligarchs Grygory Berezkin and Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor.
The EU’s official journal calls Usmanov a “pro-Kremlin oligarch with particularly close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
He has been referred to as one of “Putin’s favorite oligarchs” and is seen as a fixer for the president’s business matters.
The sanctions have already led to the seizure of a $600 million yacht — the largest in the world — linked to Usmanov, who has unsuccessfully challenged the measures in the European Court of Justice. Sister Ismailova was also sanctioned after investigations revealed that Usmanov indirectly had transferred his assets to her.
The EU says Aven “is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. He does not operate independently of the president’s demands.”
Rashnikov, meanwhile, was added to the list in March, with Brussels describing him as “a leading Russian oligarch who is 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.”
Mazepin, who is the owner and CEO of mineral fertilizer company Uralchem, is according to the EU “a member of the closest circle of Vladimir Putin” and “one of the leading businesspersons involved in economic sectors providing a substantial source of revenue to the government of Russia.”
His racing-driving son, Nikita, was before being sanctioned by the EU in March a member of the Haas Formula 1 Team and was listed due to his close association with his father.
Kantor, sanctioned in April, heads Acron Group — one of Russia’s largest fertilizer producers. According to Brussels, Kantor has “openly declared his support to and friendship for President Putin on numerous occasions, and enjoys good relations with the Kremlin.”
Berezkin was sanctioned at the same time and was referred to in the EU official journal as “a leading Russian businessperson and considered to be the ‘henchman’ of President Vladimir Putin.”