Ukraine, Hungary summon ambassadors over Russian gas deal

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A diplomatic conflict between Hungary and Ukraine deepened on Tuesday when the two countries summoned each others’ ambassadors over Budapest’s decision to sign a long-term contract to purchase Russian gas, something Ukraine considers a blow to its economic and national security interests.

The 15-year agreement between Hungary and Russian gas company Gazprom was finalized on Monday, and involves the import of an annual 4.5 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Hungary through lines that bypass Ukraine, depriving it of lucrative transit fees.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday saying Kyiv was “surprised and disappointed” by Hungary’s deal with Russia, calling the move “a purely political, economically unreasonable decision taken in favor of the Kremlin.”

The ministry added it would bring the deal, set to go into effect on Friday, to the European Union’s executive commission to assess its compliance with EU energy regulations.

Writing on Facebook on Tuesday, Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said he was “deeply outraged” over what he called Ukraine’s attempts to block the energy agreement, and that Ukraine’s ambassador had been summoned over the “attempt to violate our sovereignty.”

“The Ukrainians have nothing to do with what we agree on and with whom. We consider it a serious violation of our sovereignty and national security interests that they want to prevent the secure supply of gas to our country, the heating of Hungarian people’s homes and the operation of industry,” Szijjarto wrote.

In response, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Hungarian ambassador on Tuesday in order to relay Kyiv’s position on the deal.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Ukrainian TV channel ICTV that Hungary had “dealt a blow to Ukrainian-Hungarian relations by excluding the Ukrainian gas pipeline from the gas supply scheme from Russia.”

“This is a blow, and we will respond to it accordingly, because there should be no pity and no sympathy,” Kuleba said.

Asked if Russia is using gas supplies as a weapon against Kyiv, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no, adding that Russia uses gas “exclusively in the interests of the people of our country to increase the well-being of Russians, exclusively on a commercial basis.”

The diplomatic conflict came amid already frayed relations between Kyiv and Budapest over a 2017 Ukrainian law requiring education in schools to be conducted in the Ukrainian language for students from the fifth grade on.

Hungary’s government argues that law limits the language rights of the roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia, and has since impeded Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen ties with NATO and the EU.

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Daria Litvinova reported from Moscow, Russia.

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