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Hungary's top diplomat visits Moscow to negotiate gas supplies despite EU bid to cut deliveries

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By Euronews  with AFP
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Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for talks in Moscow.
Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for talks in Moscow.   -   Copyright  Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP

Hungary's government wants to buy close to a billion cubic metres of natural gas from Russia despite European Union plans to curb the use of gas, its top diplomat said ahead of talks with his Moscow counterpart.

"In the current international situation, the most important thing for us is to ensure Hungary's energy security," Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said at a press conference in the Russian capital on Thursday.

"Therefore, I would like to talk today and agree on increasing the volumes of gas already supplied to Hungary from Russia."

The ruling conservative Fidesz party had said earlier that Szijjártó would travel to Russia to discuss new gas deliveries.

"In order to guarantee the security of Hungary's energy supply, the government has decided to buy 700m cubic metres of natural gas in addition to the quantities already provided for in long-term contracts," Fidesz wrote in a Facebook post.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Budapest's request for additional gas would be "immediately forwarded and studied".

"Despite the difficult international situation, despite the desire of some of our partners to increase sanctions pressure on Russia, our interaction continues," Lavrov stated ahead of his meeting with Szijjártó.

A possible challenging winter ahead

Szijjártó's visit to Moscow came just one day after the EU presented a plan to reduce European gas demand by 15% to overcome the loss of Russian supplies following the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

The EU has put an embargo on Russian oil — which should result in a 90% cut in imports by the end of the year — over the country's war in Ukraine but has not sanctioned gas as it is more difficult to replace given that the bulk of Russian gas is delivered to the EU via pipeline.

Still, the 27-member bloc has pledged to slash its consumption of Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of the year to further dent Moscow's ability to raise money to wage war on its neighbour and is working on finding alternative sources of supply.

Gazprom has already partially or totally cut-off supplies to 12 member states, endangering their ability to sufficiently fill in their gas storage before the cold sets in. Nord Stream 1, the pipeline through which over a third of Russian gas makes its way into the EU, is also currently operating at just 40% capacity.

Failing to secure enough supplies over the next three months could lead to shortages over the winter, when demand is highest due to heating, and thus a further surge in prices and negative consequences on the bloc's economy.

Russia's foreign minister also said that he would use the opportunity to talk about the war in Ukraine "from the point of view of the interests of the Hungarian national minority," as well as "our vision of how our special military operation is developing."

The Russian government has criminalised any direct reference to the war or its aggression, referring to the invasion as a "special operation" instead. 

'Lasting and strategic relations' in the works

The Hungarian foreign minister is the only top official from an EU member state to visit Russia since late February, bar Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer's trip in April.

Szijjártó is also to hold talks with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, Russia's top energy official. 

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has long opposed sanctions on Russia's energy sector and has stated that the bloc has "shot itself in the lungs".

The landlocked EU member state currently imports 65% of its oil and 80% of its natural gas from Russia and declared a "state of emergency" over supply disruptions last week.

Hungary's government said it would increase its domestic energy production capacities to ensure adequate supply.

Orbán has condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine but has blamed the current energy crisis in his country on sanctions.

On Thursday, Lavrov also announced that Budapest and Moscow plan to develop "lasting and strategic" relations.

Russia will not let European sanctions "interfere with our cooperation, and we will seek solutions to make our cooperation in all areas impervious to these whims and attempts at punishment," he added.