Hungary and Austria have reportedly been reluctant to slash ties with Mr Putin due to their economic dependence on the Kremlin. Hungarian President Viktor Orbán struck a 15-year natural gas supply deal with Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom back in September. Ukraine was outraged, with its Foreign Ministry calling the move a “purely political, economically unreasonable decision”.
It was also recently confirmed that the deal to ramp up deliveries from 4.5 billion to 5.5 billion cubic meters per year to Hungary will run until 2036.
And over the last 10 years, the volume of gas exports from Russia to Austria has soared more than tenfold, reaching a record value of 16.28 bcm in 2019.
In 2021, Austria received around 252 bcm of Russia’s gas.
Politico reports that diplomats from Hungary and Austria told them they were the two countries least willing to get rid of their trade ties with Russia.
It comes as the EU is considering slapping down sanctions on Mr Putin as he eyes up invading Ukraine.
Fears were sparked after 100,000 troops were said to be stationed at the Russia-Ukraine border.
One measure would be to scrap the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bring gas from Russia to Germany once it comes online.
But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has still refused to explicitly say whether he would abandon the project, despite many other countries within the bloc having voiced their opposition to the deal.
Critics say it would only tighten Mr Putin’s grip on European energy, which was already laid bare after he slashed gas supplies travelling into the bloc in a move that sent prices skyrocketing to record highs.
As Ukraine is a key transit country for Russia’s gas to reach Europe, there are fears that Moscow could respond dangerously to EU sanctions.
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In fact, Russia is responsible for around a third of Europe’s natural gas supplies, coming from a network of five Russian pipelines.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has insisted that the 27 member states and their allies agree on the need for a package of harsh sanctions to be slapped on Russia if it launches an attack.
And deeper cracks could soon form.
Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said: “I think it is normal that there are nuances in the positions that we all have because we do not have the same geographical position, the same historical relations with Russia, nor the same economic relations.”
“The reality is that when we took that decision [to impose significant costs on Russia], it was with consensus, and it binds us all.”
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Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský has said that there’s “a variety of ideas” within the bloc over “which sanctions” should be slapped on Russia and “how far they should go”.
But it does appear as though the EU is preparing for the eventuality that more gas will get cut.
EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said: “It is important that all member states work on preparedness and review contingency plans to ensure they are fit for purpose.
“The Commission is conducting an assessment of the situation at European level in liaison with member states.
“We think that the available gas stocks in the EU and our good network of LNG terminals will protect us against major security of supply problems.”