Budapest, February 14 (MTI) – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Budapest could be crucial from the point of view of maintaining secure energy supplies to Hungary, Peter Szijjarto, minister of foreign affairs and trade, told MTI.
Russia will remain a key player in ensuring central Europe’s energy supply so it is “inconceivable for us not to consult with it regularly,” he said.
Russia is Hungary’s third biggest trading partner, and the recent drop in bilateral trade has had a “very grave” impact on Hungary’s economic performance. It follows that ways to boost two-way trade will feature high on the agenda of the visit, scheduled for Feb. 17, he said.
Szijjarto noted that the Hungarian-Russian long-term gas agreement will expire this year. As Russia continues to be Hungary’s biggest supplier, the issue of safe energy supply should be settled in a reassuring way, he said.
For the time being, Russia and Turkey are negotiating about gas supplies but have not signed a binding agreement. It is clear that the gas originally intended to be transported through the aborted South Stream pipeline will indeed arrive in Turkey. But plenty of questions, including the price and the route, are still unresolved, he said.
It would be important to know when, and along which route, Russian gas deliveries via Turkey to central Europe can start and who will finance the pipeline construction, the minister said.
Establishing the infrastructure would require huge investments, which the countries lying along the pipeline would be unable to finance alone. This implies that the European Union should get involved in the project, all the more so since central Europe’s energy security is an all-European affair, he said.
“We know what projects the European Union did not support. Now it would be important to learn what projects it will support,” he said.
The Paks nuclear plant upgrade project “is on the right track, the related contracts have been concluded,” the minister said, adding that the Russian energy minister had reassured him in Moscow last December that there was no cause for concern, as Rosatom would fulfil its obligations.
The conflict in Ukraine will obviously be raised during Putin’s talks, Szijjarto said.
“Hungary’s position is unambiguous: the conflict should be settled peacefully through negotiations,” he said.
Hungary has a vested interest in peace for several reasons; Ukraine is a neighbouring country, it has a 150,000-strong ethnic Hungarian minority and forms part of the route of Russian gas to Hungary, he said.
Szijjarto noted that Hungary had hosted the German chancellor, the Georgian prime minister and the Serbian, Polish and Montenegrin foreign ministers, and expects to host the Russian president and the Turkish prime minister this month.
“It would be difficult to speak of Hungary’s isolation without risking appearing ridiculous,” he said.
Szijjarto said that Hungary had informed its allies about Putin’s forthcoming working visit before it had been officially announced.