Hungary and Slovakia will be able to continue buying Russian crude oil until the end of 2023 under existing contracts, an EU source told Reuters on Wednesday, benefitting from exemptions from an oil embargo proposed by the European Commission.
The EU executive on Wednesday proposed a ban on EU imports of Russian crude oil within six months, and on refined oil products by the end of the year.
In a bid to convince reluctant countries not to veto the proposal, Brussels has proposed a longer period to implement the embargo for Hungary and Slovakia, the source said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The exception would concern existing contracts for crude oil signed by Hungary and Slovakia with Russia.
The source declined to comment about whether the exemption also concerned refined products.
The Commission's proposal is under discussion. It needs backing of all EU governments to be adopted. A meeting of EU envoys started at 0730 GMT on Wednesday to debate the matter.
A second source, familiar with the discussions, said that the proposed delayed embargo for Hungary and Slovakia until the end of 2023 could be the compromise that is needed to reach an agreement.
Hungary, heavily dependent on Russian oil, has repeatedly said it would not sign up to sanctions involving energy. Slovakia is also among the EU countries most reliant on Russian fossil fuels.
Overall, the EU is dependent on Russia for 26% of its oil imports.
Slovakia and Hungary, both on the southern route of the Druzhba pipeline bringing Russian oil to Europe, received respectively 96% and 58% of their crude oil and oil products imports from Russia last year, according to the International Energy Agency.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio, additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely)