"May sense of kinship strengthen Azerbaijan, Hungary in future as well!"
    Sándor Lezsák for Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  16 June 2023 - 11:59

    Caliber.Az presents an interview with the Hungarian National Assembly Deputy Chairman Sándor Lezsák.

    - How do you assess your recent visit to Baku and how do you see the relations between Azerbaijan and Hungary?

    - The visit of Hungarian MPs to Azerbaijan in May of this year, in my opinion, strengthened Azerbaijani-Hungarian relations and increased confidence between our countries. Now it is important for our countries to expand trade relations, because traditional foreign suppliers, first of all energy suppliers to Hungary were significantly reduced because of the US and EU sanction policy.

    Azerbaijan's rapid economic growth has created an infrastructural basis for Hungary and some Balkan countries to consider transporting Azerbaijani gas and oil to the Balkans. In contrast to the Soviet past, when oil and gas production in the republic was not so powerful and Azerbaijani hydrocarbons were not exported abroad, today Azerbaijan is a country with huge energy potential and an energy supplier to Asia and Europe.

    One of the important moments of the Hungarian parliamentary delegation's visit to Baku was our opportunity to take part in a solemn meeting of the Milli Majlis (Parliament) on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of national leader Heydar Aliyev, the founder of independent Azerbaijan. It is under his leadership that Azerbaijan has become a stable state, the people of which began to look into the future with confidence.

    We met with Parliament Speaker Sahiba Gafarova and First Deputy Speaker Ali Huseynli and discussed with them opportunities to expand parliamentary cooperation and establish direct contacts between our inter-parliamentary working groups.

    We are not just "energy friends" of Azerbaijan as many have become these days, our relations are based on Azerbaijani and Hungarian culture and our common past, the heritage of which is a reliable and solid foundation independent of the vagaries of politics or economy. That is why, besides strengthening economic and political ties, we consider cooperation in the sphere of education and culture important.

    To this end, I personally talked to Gunay Efendiyeva, president of the International Foundation for Turkic Culture and Heritage, and we agreed to further expand our cultural cooperation.

    I had a meeting with the Vice-Rector of Nakhchivan University, and we agreed that Yanoosh Neyman University in Kechemet and the Azerbaijani university will consider possible areas of cooperation, on which an agreement may be signed this fall.

    I would also like to mention that I had a reception at the residence of the Hungarian Representation of the Turkic Council at Villa Ible of the Foreign Ministry on May 28, which was hosted by the Ambassador of your country on the occasion of the national holiday, Independence Day of Azerbaijan, and I conveyed greetings on behalf of the Hungarian Parliament. May the sense of kinship strengthen us in the future as well!

    - In April a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the gas transmission system operators of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and SOCAR. How important is this event from the point of view of European energy security?

    - Indeed, on April 25 Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia signed a memorandum of understanding on the supply of Azerbaijani natural gas to Central Europe via the so-called "Ring of Solidarity", using the energy infrastructure of the region.

    In Central Europe, including Hungary, the security of gas supplies has always been an issue of critical importance. At the end of last year, the security of energy supplies to us began to be ensured also through the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), the construction of which was completed and which already transports gas to Europe from the Caucasus region, namely from Azerbaijan.

    This opens a new gas transportation source and a new supply route and as of the end of this year, Hungary will be physically connected to the SCG because the interconnector connecting the Greek and the Bulgarian gas pipeline systems will have been built by then and Hungary will have a pipeline in place to connect the Hungarian-Serbian border with the Hungarian pipeline system.

    Budapest is interested in being able to buy gas and it went via this new route. We are expected to receive 100 million cubic metres of gas as early as this year. We plan to transport ten billion cubic metres of gas annually from the Turkish-Bulgarian border in the direction of Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, using both existing and newly built pipelines. The transportation is carried out through the SCG using TAP (Trans-Adriatic Pipeline), IGB (Greek-Bulgarian Interconnector) and the national gas networks of Romania and Bulgaria.

    Azerbaijani Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov recently stated that the short-term goal of SOCAR is to develop the infrastructure necessary for exports to the Balkans, that is, in accordance with the "Ring of Solidarity" gas initiative. Your country will increase gas exports to Europe from 8.2 bcm to 10 bcm this year. The European Union and Azerbaijan have agreed that by 2027, the volume of gas supplies to Europe will increase to 20 billion cubic metres.

    We cannot ignore the fact that the EU leadership, by imposing sanctions against Russia, has blocked the work of existing oil and gas pipelines in our region, as well as putting out of service refineries that specialise in processing Russian oil of special composition. It is therefore only natural that the European Union should now play its part in financing the Solidarity Ring. So far, however, the EU is not taking on the costs of solving the energy problems it has caused.

    - Countries and companies of the European Union should not conclude new contracts for the purchase of Russian LNG (liquefied natural gas), Europe must completely get rid of Russian gas. This was warned by Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy of the European Commission. But how is that feasible in practice?

    - After the explosion of the gas pipeline connecting Russia to northern Germany in September 2022, the purchase of liquefied natural gas, which comes at a significantly higher price, has come to the fore. If the European Commission were to prohibit the purchase of LNG from Russia, thousands of natural gas processing plants in Europe would have to be closed, which would also lead to significant unemployment.

    According to current estimates, about 60 billion cubic metres of Russian natural gas will be missing from the European grid this year. The LNG capacity needed to make up for the lost volumes - transport ships, reservoirs, conversion equipment - will not be available to the European economy for several more years.

    Unfortunately, even if it were possible to replace previous Russian supplies with American LNG supplies, the European economy would still be at a disadvantage. The fact that, due to sanctions, the price of natural gas in Europe is seven times higher than in the US and the price of electricity is three times higher than in China is already a serious competitive disadvantage.

    Executives of many large European companies decide to move their operations from Europe to the United States or to developing Asian countries, where the energy needed for their work is cheaper, thus leaving behind a mass of unemployed people.

    - What kind of trouble does the Russian-Ukrainian war threaten Hungary and why does it not join the anti-Russian sanctions?

    - First of all, it should be emphasised that Hungary has so far voted for sanctions against Russia, fighting only for a temporary exemption from these restrictions on its part. Unfortunately, this favourable period is much shorter than the time needed to reorganise the manufacturing industry. And for historical reasons, the Hungarian refining industry is only suitable for processing Russian oil with a certain composition, i.e., it is not suitable for cracking, for example, Iraqi or Libyan oil. We have no seaports where we can take LNG shipments.

    These given capacities cannot be switched to other types of oil even in five or six years, and new oil pipelines cannot be built in a hurry either. We consider unacceptable the demand for mandatory sanctions from Hungary by those European countries which, through embargoes, sanctions and other trade bans of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, made it impossible for Hungary to weaken its economic dependence on the Soviet Union. They created economic conditions that we cannot eliminate overnight.

    The losses to Hungary because of the sanctions can be measured in thousands of billions of forints - losses so enormous that no economic research organisation is yet in a position to estimate them precisely.

    The price explosion in the energy market, which has occurred all over Europe, has caused an inflation rate of 15-20 per cent in Hungary, which has significantly hit both the state budget and the livelihood of those who live on wages. Many small hospitality, catering and retail businesses had to close because they could not reflect the increased energy costs in their prices.

    About a million and a half refugees have arrived in the country so far because of the Russian-Ukrainian war. They need to be taken care of in a dignified way, both in terms of accommodation and subsidies. Despite the fact that most of them go to Western Europe after a short or long stay with us, taking care of them places a serious burden on the state treasury.

    - Hungary has stated that it considers it important to develop relations with all Turkic states. And since the end of 2018, your country has been participating in the work of the Organisation of Turkic States as an observer. Does Hungary plan to become a full member of the OTS?

    - The Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States was founded in 2009 at the initiative of Kazakhstan. The aim was to create favourable conditions for deepening and strengthening cooperation between Turkic-speaking states and peoples. An expanded cooperation agreement promotes joint activities in 14 areas including economy, education, culture and tourism.

    In 2008, Hungary organised its first Kurultai as a review of military forces of Hunno-Avars-Turkic-Hungarian origin. This event, held every two years, quickly became very popular, attracting 160,000-200,000 visitors each. The 2012 Kurultai was the largest gathering of Hunno-Türks in the world and the largest tradition-building event.

    The peoples of the East, representing 26 nations from 22 countries and autonomous republics, took part in the meeting with a delegation of 284 people.

    Hundreds of performances were held, where folk music - both Hungarian and our kindred peoples of the East - was performed. In June 2013, at a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries in Ankara, representatives of the Hungarian parliament declared their intention to indirectly join the OTS. This request was accepted by the Turkic-speaking countries.

    Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev supported us in obtaining observer status in the Turkic Council. In recognition of Hungary's careful preservation of Hunno-Turkic traditions, it was granted observer status at the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries (TURKPA) held in Baku in 2014, four years earlier than it was mentioned in the question posed to me.

    - How do you see the future of Hungary in the short term?

    - In the short term, being in close proximity to the Russian-Ukrainian war, we cannot count on economic growth, which is only possible under peaceful conditions. Even the position of our government, which advocates peace, is perceived with hostility in Europe, and our country is deprived of EU resources, which rightfully belong to us.

    One of the leaders of the European Union openly stated that as long as we preach peace, we cannot receive money from the EU. In his view, as long as we refrain from supplying weapons to Ukraine, as long as we do not allow weapons and ammunition to pass through our territory, as long as we expect peace and offer negotiations leading to a cease-fire, we should not even hope to receive the amount we are due from the EU.

    We are naturally affected by the detrimental effects of today's military situation, but we are also affected by the almost colonial arbitrariness of the EU, because of the consequences of the sanctions policy, which is increasing inflation and unemployment. And we, too, are part of Europe, and too close to the conflagration of war.

    In this situation, I would consider it a success if we were able to maintain peace at home in the medium term, maintain employment levels, the security of families with children, the purchasing power of pensions, our health, life expectancy and the stability of the Hungarian forint.


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