Hungary halts gas sale to Ukraine on Russia fears
BUDAPEST - Agence France-Presse
An engineer oversees the gas distribution system of Hungary's gas pipeline operator FGSZ in Kiskundorozsma. REUTERS PhotoPrime Minister Viktor Orban said Sept. 26 that Hungary could not risk a halt to Russian gas supplies as it froze deliveries to Ukraine amid threats by Moscow.
"Hungary cannot get into a situation in which, due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it cannot access its required supply of energy," Orban said on state radio.
Hungary's gas pipeline network operator FGSZ said late Sept. 25 it had indefinitely suspended gas supply to neighbouring Ukraine for technical reasons, a move branded "unexpected and unexplained" by Ukraine state-owned gas firm Naftogaz.
Orban's statement followed a warning by Moscow that it could cut off European countries have been re-exporting gas to Ukraine to help Kiev through its latest energy war with Moscow.
The threat came as energy chiefs gathered in Berlin for EU-mediated talks aimed at halting a Russian gas supply cut to Ukraine that could leave parts of the war-scarred nation without heat this winter.
The European Commission rapped EU member Hungary for cutting of so-called reverse flow supplies to Ukraine.
"The message from the commission is very clear - we expect all member states to facilitate reverse flows as agreed by the European Council in the interest of a shared energy security," said European Commission spokeswoman Helene Banner in Brussels.
'Large quantities of gas needed'
The Hungarian halt in supply came days after a meeting in Budapest between Alexei Miller, head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who often warns against damaging commercial relations with Russia.
"In the next period we will need large quantities of gas.... We will receive this, I agreed this with Alexei Miller," Orban said.
Russia is the biggest supplier of gas to Europe, with Hungary one of 12 eastern and central European member states that rely on Moscow for more than three quarters of their gas.
Two price disputes between Russia and Ukraine in the past decade have led to cuts in supplies to Europe.
The EU has begun reverse flows of gas through Hungary, Poland and Slovakia when Russia ended all gas sales to Ukraine in June after Kiev balked at paying a higher price imposed by Moscow in the wake of the February ouster of the unpopular Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak asserted to a German newspaper Sept. 26 that the re-export to Ukraine of Russian gas was illegal and could see some of its nations go without shipments from Gazprom for the first time since 2009. The EU insists reverse flow deliveries are legal.
Ukrainian gas operator Naftogaz has said Hungary's decision to halt gas deliveries "goes against the core principles of the European Union single energy market."