May 5, 2022 - 10:00am

Croatian President Zoran Milanović’s intervention on the possible accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO was anything but diplomatic.  

“I will be chasing the sinful souls of every parliament member who votes in favour like the devil” was his warning to Croatian lawmakers expected to back Sweden and Finland’s anticipated membership application. Milanović said that if called upon as head of state to represent Croatia in NATO discussions, he would veto the two countries’ admission. 

Milanović argues that before NATO admits any more members in the name of western solidarity, it should first pressure Bosnia and Herzegovina to change its election law and “give (Bosnian) Croats their fundamental rights.” The Croatian government claims Croats are not properly represented in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency and condemned elections coming in the country this October as “illegitimate.”  

On the substance, questions of Finnish-Swedish NATO membership and elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina — not even a NATO member state — are completely unrelated. Croatia’s Prime Minister lambasted Milanović for a “perfidious” attempt to make one issue conditional on the other. Yet the row is symptomatic of a growing dissonance between supposed international unity in the face of Russian revanchism, and nation-level concerns in eastern Europe. 

As the Croatian President vented his frustration, sanctions on Russian oil proposed by the European Commission faced opposition from eastern EU member states which are heavily dependent on Moscow for energy. Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács confirmed on Wednesday that Hungary would veto EU sanctions on oil because they are “against Hungarian interests.” 

Hungary’s opposition to an oil ban led to howls of rage across the bloc, with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán widely condemned (not for the first time) as a traitor to the West. Yet the country’s stance is entirely in keeping with the pledge from its nationalist government to shield Hungarian citizens from the negative impacts of war in Ukraine. 

Hungarians would certainly feel the effects of a sudden end to Russian oil supplies: according to the International Energy Agency, 58% of Hungarian oil imports came from Russia in 2021. Slovakia, another Eastern European country with severe doubts about the proposed oil ban, received as much as 96% of its oil imports from Russia last year.  

Oil refineries are designed to process specific types of oil, so Slovakia and Hungary wouldn’t be able to switch suppliers overnight even if a viable replacement for Russian oil could be found. In the face of such realist objections, the EU offered Hungary and Slovakia the chance to keep buying Russian oil for another year, until the end of 2023. 

With Hungary shooting back that the bloc’s proposal still doesn’t protect its energy security, it’s now far from certain that the oil ban will become a reality. And the idea of deferring Hungarian and Slovak adherence to the sanctions presents its own set of difficulties: how would other EU nations dependent on Russian oil, such as the Netherlands, Greece, Poland and Finland, feel about inflicting more hardship on their citizens while the oil continues to flow to Hungary and Slovakia?  

Only time will tell, but as the West tries to take new steps in response to Russian aggression, the divide between national and international interests is getting wider.

William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of