Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó travelled to Moscow to negotiate more gas imports from Russia as Hungary braces for a tumultuous winter heating season. Hungary has been a vocal critic on the European Union’s embargo on Russian energy sources, saying a swift decoupling from Russian energy would undermine the country’s economy.
Hungary’s foreign minister arrived in Moscow to talk about ensuring additional gas supplies for his country and finding a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine. Péter Szijjártó met Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and deputy prime minister Alexander Novak.
Diplomacy in focus
The Hungarian government has maintained communication ties with Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and insists that Hungary cannot severe its energy ties with Russia without severely damaging the economy. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is seen as Putin’s closet ally in the European Union and the two leaders had met regularly prior to the war.
“We have arrived in Moscow. We have two tasks ahead: to ensure that there will be natural gas supplies for Hungarian people and stress that we want peace as soon as possible,” Szijjártó posted on his Facebook page.
Hungary is the only country in central Europe to not have openly criticized Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the government has repeatedly said that the only solution to the crisis is through diplomatic means to secure peace in the neighboring country.
No to the embargo
Hungary’s close ties with Russia and Premier Viktor Orbán’s opposition to Brussels’ plans to reduce European dependency on Russian oil and gas have drawn criticism from western EU members. Hungary gets 85% of its natural gas and more than 60% of its oil from Russia and Budapest said that the EU oil boycott would be equal to dropping an atomic bomb on the nation’s economy, as it would destroy its “stable energy supply.”
Last year, Hungary signed a 15-year deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom to receive 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas a year via Bulgaria and Serbia, and a further 1 bcm through a pipeline from Austria. Szijjártó said earlier that Budapest wanted to buy more gas on the market before the heating season as energy prices skyrocket. He also said that Hungary was in talks with Russia about redirecting all the gas shipments under the long-term supply deal to the Turkstream pipeline that brings gas to Hungary via Serbia.
The government in Budapest declared an “energy emergency” last week, warning that Europe would face severe gas and oil shortages in the upcoming winter season following EU sanctions imposed on Russian energy. Meanwhile, the EU asked member states to reduce their energy demand by 15% between August and March. Brussels also accused Russia of using energy to blackmail European countries.
At the press conference following the foreign ministers’ meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia would consider Hungary’s request to increase gas purchases. “We have a mutual understanding that we, both Russia and Hungary, are always driven by our national interests,” Lavrov said, after a lengthy critique of the EU’s sanctions policy. “A battle is ongoing. The European bureaucracy wants to subjugate all and everyone, the national governments. It wants to dictate conditions and to buy out any dissent.”
According to Szijjártó, Hungary needs a further 700 million cubic meters of gas on top of the existing supply deal with Russia in order to ensure the safety of supplies. “Looking at the current market situation, like it or not … without Russian sources, it would not be possible to buy an additional 700 million cubic meters of gas,” Szijjártó said.
“My goal is to complete the talks as soon as possible,” he added, reiterating that Hungary also wants a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war in Ukraine.
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