The effort to move gas from Russia to countries in Southeast and Central Europe is not going away. Five foreign ministers converged in Budapest at the beginning of April at the invitation of Prime Minister Orban. It is another demonstration of how the Orban government is pushing the pro-Russia line in the region.
The replacement for the cancelled South Stream is proposed to run from Russia to Turkey under the Black Sea. The new landing point in the European part of Turkey, avoids direct EU market access rules. Essentially, it is a shift from coming ashore in Bulgaria and now lands in Turkey. The effort is now underway to build the infrastructure to move the gas from Turkey to the countries in the SEE and CEE region. This is where Hungary’s Orban plays his role as a friend of Putin. The convening of the SEE foreign ministers is a stated attempt to bring the gas labelled for South Stream, and which currently goes through Ukraine, to Hungary and the region.
Rather than debating how to ship Russian gas via Turkey to the region, Hungary should be seeking to improve the infrastructure in Ukraine. Improvements between Russia, Ukraine and Hungary would continue the historic path of energy cooperation. Instead, Budapest seeks to undermine Ukraine by siding with Russia on all energy issues.
The Orban government’s exclusive focus on Russian gas unnecessarily sets them up as pro-Russian, rather than pro-diversification. Promotion and building interconnectors from Turkey through SEE countries should be considered in moving Caspian gas to the region, rather than just Russian gas that is diverted from Ukraine. This is an easy dialectic softball that Budapest could pick up on. ‘Let’s move Caucaus and Russian gas to the SEE and CEE regions’. Instead, Orban’s relationship and his strategy of an Eastern opening rests on batting for Putin in Europe. Unfortunately, we see the promotion of a new and smaller pipeline network as just another Russian project, rather than one that really enhances and diversifies the regions away from Russian gas.