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Hungary is threatening to block the renewal of some parts of the European Union's sanctions regime against Russia if three oligarchs aren't removed from a list that takes restrictive measures against more than 1,000 people in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in late February.
According to several diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter who aren't authorized to speak on the record, the three Budapest wants to see de-listed from the visa ban and asset freeze list are Alisher Usmanov, Pyotr Aven, and Viktor Rashnikov.
The move comes as the European Union looks to renew for another six months the list of people under sanctions by another six months. EU ambassadors are set to discuss the matter on September 7, ahead of the September 15 renewal deadline.
The list, which can only be rolled over by unanimous vote, currently consists of 1,217 individuals and 108 entities. It has been expanded throughout the year as Brussels ratchets up its restrictive measures on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.
Both Usmanov and Aven were added to the list in late February.
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.
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."
On top of the removal of the trio, Budapest is also asking for an exemption for humanitarian organizations to have business with some Russian banks that are currently under sanctions.
There is speculation in Brussels that Hungary is using the sanctions renewal as a leverage to get Brussels to approve EU funds that have so far been withheld over fears of rule-of-law infringements in the country.
RFE/RL has contacted officials in Budapest but so far none have commented on the matter.
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Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his government have clashed several times with the EU in recent years over corruption, migration, LGBT rights, and democratic standards.
The European Commission has been withholding its approval for Hungary to draw on money meant to help lift economies from the COVID-19 pandemic, accusing Orban's government of undermining the rule of law.
Orban has 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.
Budapest also broke with Brussels on the issue of paying for Russian gas with rubles and has not allowed Western arms shipments through Hungarian territory to Ukraine.
The government said in a decree published late on September 5 that it would create an anti-corruption authority and a working group involving nongovernment organizations to oversee the spending of European Union funds, a move aimed at unlocking money being withheld by the bloc.
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