By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union should stop adding sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and instead push for a ceasefire and the start of negotiations, a senior aide to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday.
Speaking on the sidelines of a summit of EU leaders which granted Ukraine the status of a candidate to become a member of the EU, the aide said the more sanctions the EU adopted the more they hurt the bloc, while Russia survived.
"At the end of the day Europe will be on the losing side of this war because of the economic problems. Our recommendation would bee that we should stop the sanction process," Balazs Orban, not related to the prime minister, told Reuters in an interview.
Hungary is one of the most pro-Russian EU countries, heavily dependent on Russian gas and oil. Russia is also building a nuclear reactor for Hungary. Budapest had held up the latest package of sanctions against Moscow that included a ban on Russian oil imports until it negotiated an exemption for itself.
"Right now what we experience is that the more sanctions we accept, the worse shape we are in. And the Russians? Yes, it hurts them as well, but they survive. And what is even worse, they proceed in Ukraine," Balazs Orban said.
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the 27-nation European Union has agreed on six packages of sanctions that include asset freezes and visa bans on Russian oligarchs and officials, export controls, freezing central bank assets, disconnecting banks from the SWIFT messaging system and a ban on imports of Russian coal and oil.
But some officials argue that individual oligarchs can live without some of their yachts or Western villas, have probably already moved liquid assets outside the EU and export controls might be circumvented by China and others.
The freeze on the Russian central bank reserves is made less painful by the billions of dollars Russia gets every day for its oil and gas still flowing to Europe, they say. Once the EU stops buying Russian oil next year, the crude can be sold and shipped by tankers to China or India, some officials say.
Others argue the sanctions are working, but it will take time before their full impact on the Russian economy shows.
Orban, however, said the EU should change its tactics.
"We reached a point when we realise that we followed the strategy for four months, we have some achievements, but if it continues like this, according to reasonable thinking, it will end up in a bad way for Europe. So we have to think about something. Negotiations, ceasefire, peace. Diplomacy. That's our solution," Orban said.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Grant McCool)