October 1, 2021



Hungary summons Ukrainian envoy

Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Péter Szíjjártó has summoned Ukraine’s ambassador over what he said was Kyiv’s attempts to block Budapest’s new long-term gas supply deal with Russia, which was signed on September 27. In a September 28 post on Facebook, Mr. Szíjjártó denounced Ukraine’s criticism of the new 15-year natural-gas supply deal with Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom as a “serious violation of Hungary’s sovereignty.” Executives of Hungarian energy group MVM signed the gas deal with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller on September 27 at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Budapest. The deal reroutes Russian natural gas exports bound for Hungary through a new pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey that extends further on to Central Europe, circumventing a shorter land route through Ukraine and depriving Kyiv of millions of dollars in transit fees. Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry called Hungary’s supply deal a “purely political, economically unreasonable decision” that was made “to the detriment of Ukraine’s national interests and Ukrainian-Hungarian relations.” The Ukrainian statement said the deal would have “a significant impact on the energy security of Ukraine and Europe,” and that it will ask the European Commission to assess whether the agreement respected European energy legislation. Mr. Szíjjártó wrote in his Facebook message that the Ukrainian government’s decision to attack the deal was “deeply upsetting” and amounted to an “unfriendly step.” On September 27, Mr. Szíjjártó told a news conference that for Hungary, “energy safety is a matter of security, sovereignty and economy rather than a political matter.” “You cannot heat homes with political statements,” Mr. Szíjjártó added. A Gazprom statement quoted Mr. Miller as saying that Hungary “will start receiving Gazprom’s gas starting from October 1 already via TurkStream and the pipelines of South-Eastern Europe.” Under the deal, Gazprom would ship 4.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Hungary annually, allowing for the supply of around half of Hungary’s annual gas consumption. There were no immediate comments from the EU executive. The United States has opposed the extension of the TurkStream pipeline into Bulgaria, Serbia and further on to Hungary, saying it strengthens the Kremlin’s grip on Europe’s energy industry. When contacted by RFE/RL, the U.S. State Department declined to comment on Hungary’s new gas deal with Russia, saying instead that it supports efforts to strengthen energy infrastructure connectivity in Central and Eastern Europe “more closely with the rest of the EU but also to the United States.” The United States is seeking to export more liquefied natural gas to ports on the Adriatic and Aegean Seas to help diversify energy supplies to Central and Eastern Europe. Russia, which used to ship natural gas primarily through Ukraine, has diversified export routes, constructing the Nord Stream pipelines to Germany and the TurkStream link to Turkey. Hungary has relied on Russia for most of its natural gas imports delivered via a pipeline through Ukraine, but in recent years it has diversified gas imports, opening cross-border interconnectors with most of its neighbors and securing supplies from Royal Dutch Shell via a liquefied natural gas terminal on Croatia’s Adriatic island of Krk. Relations between Hungary and its neighbor Ukraine have been tense for years because of a dispute over the linguistic rights of some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia. Kyiv angered Budapest in 2017 with a law restricting the use of minority languages, including Hungarian, in schools. In response, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s nationalist government blocked Ukraine’s efforts to build closer ties with NATO and the European Union, of which Hungary is a member. (RFE/RL’s Hungarian Service, with reporting by Reuters)


Kremlin warns over NATO infrastructure

The Kremlin has reiterated that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine would cross one of President Vladimir Putin’s “red lines” as Belarus’s authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka accused Washington of using training centers as a guise for setting up bases for the Western military alliance. Ukraine, which is not a NATO member but has long sought closer ties with the West and its militaries, immediately rejected the statements saying it would determine its own security policy and that Moscow should worry only about issues inside of Russia’s borders. The latest flare-up in frayed relations among the nations started on September 27 when Mr. Lukashenka said the United States is “building up bases” in Ukraine and that he and Mr. Putin have “agreed we must do something about it.” Mr. Lukashenka, who has been hit with several rounds of sanctions from the U.S. and several other Western nations for his brutal crackdown on dissent at home after the opposition accused him of rigging a presidential election in August 2020, did not specify what Moscow and Minsk would do, other than to say the actions would “ensure the security of the two of our states.” Russia staunchly opposes the idea of NATO membership for Ukraine and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added that Mr. Putin has repeatedly noted the issue of the potential broadening of NATO infrastructure on Ukrainian territory “would cross red lines.” Speaking in Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba sharply rejected the notion of a Russian “red line” outside of its own borders. “[Mr.] Putin’s ‘red lines’ are limited to Russia’s borders,” he tweeted. “On our side of the Ukrainian-Russian border we can figure out ourselves what to do in the interests of the Ukrainian people, as well as Ukraine’s and Europe’s security.” Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry rejected Mr. Lukashenka’s “baseless insinuations,” and stressed that Ukraine “has never interfered and will not interfere in the affairs of neighboring Belarus.” “Preserving Belarus’s sovereignty and independence, not becoming an appendage of Russia, is something that Minsk should really think about,” the spokesman, Oleh Nikolenko, told the UNIAN news agency. Tensions have run high since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and then tightened its grip by staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by most of the international community. Earlier this year, the Kremlin amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and in the occupied territory of Crimea in what the United States called an act of intimidation against Kyiv. The military buildup came as Ukrainian forces battle Moscow-backed fighters in two eastern regions in a low-intensity war that has killed more than 13,200 since 2014. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the fighting, even though there is substantial evidence of Russian fighters and arms crossing into Ukraine. Ukraine began joint military exercises with the United States and other NATO member troops last week, while Russia and Belarus held large-scale drills that alarmed the West. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters, TASS and BelTA)


Russia to spend billions in Ukraine

Russia plans to spend 900 billion rubles ($12.4 billion) over the next three years on financial support in the parts of eastern Ukraine that are held by Russia-backed separatists, according to government documents obtained by the Donbas.Realities desk of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service. The funding described in the documents appears to largely target social spending in the parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that have been controlled by the separatists since 2014, when a war against Kyiv’s forces erupted after Russia fomented unrest following the ouster of Moscow-friendly former Ukraininan President Viktor Yanukovych. The areas held by the Russia-backed separatists have a combined population of about 2.9 million people, about 38 percent of them pensioners, according to the documents, whose authenticity could not be independently verified. The planned spending described in the documents appears to represent a significant increase. The average salary in the areas is currently 15,000 rubles ($206) a month and the Kremlin aims to increase it to 20,000 rubles ($274) by 2024, the documents said, bringing it in line with the neighboring Russian region of Rostov. Oleksiy Reznikov, deputy prime minister and minister for reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, estimated in 2020 that Russia spends a total of about $1.3 billion annually on salaries in the separatist-held parts of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia occupied and seized from Ukraine in March 2014. The Russian Economic Development Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (RFE/RL’s Yaroslav Kreshko)


U.S. allows tycoon to sell Texas property

The United States is permitting a company owned by a Ukrainian tycoon to sell a Texas building the government froze as part of a civil money-laundering case so that it can pay down the property’s back taxes and other debts. The Justice Department last year accused billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky along with his partner of embezzling money from their Ukraine-based Privatbank and then laundering the proceeds through shell companies to purchase U.S. commercial buildings worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The Justice Department sued to seize three of the buildings, including one each in Ohio, Kentucky and Texas. Mr. Kolomoisky denies the accusations and has filed for arbitration, saying the United States has no basis to expropriate his assets. In a September 22 filing, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke granted a Justice Depart­ment request to allow Mr. Kolomoisky’s firm to sell a Dallas building that was once home to Electronic Data Systems, the company founded by former presidential candidate Ross Perot. Centurion American, a North Texas-based real estate firm, has agreed to buy the property for $23.3 million, according to the court filing. The sale is expected to be completed on September 27, court filings show. After debts and taxes are paid, the remaining proceeds from the sale will be held in an interest-bearing escrow account maintained by the United States pending the outcome of the civil case. The property owed more than $425,000 in property taxes, late penalties and community association fees as of September 16, court documents show. “This Court finds that an interlocutory sale of the Property is necessary and appropriate to preserve the value of the Property before the conclusion of the pending forfeiture proceedings,” Ms. Cooke said in her ruling. The immediate sale will mitigate the risk of market fluctuations as well as the cost of maintaining the property in good condition. The Texas property is currently unoccupied and thus unable to generate revenue to cover its maintenance costs, taxes and association fees. Mr. Kolomoisky is one of the most powerful tycoons in Ukraine with assets ranging from oil and gas to metals and media. His television stations backed the candidacy of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the 2019 campaign and he is reported to have close ties to his administration. (RFE/RL’s Todd Prince)