NARRATIVE: Delivery of Russian gas to Hungary will lead to the collapse of Ukraine
LOCAL CONTEXT / ETHOS: On September 27th, this year, Hungary signed a new 15-year natural gas purchase agreement with Gazprom, which will deliver 4.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually via two routes: 3.5 billion cubic meters via Serbia and one billion cubic meters via Austria. Ukraine has denounced the contract, which it says threatens its security. “We consider this to be an exclusively political, unreasonable decision from an economic point of view, taken in favor of the Kremlin and to the detriment of Ukraine's national interests and of the Ukrainian-Hungarian relations”, a Kiev Foreign Ministry statement reads. The Ukrainian side will also call on the European Commission to assess the compliance of the new agreement with the European energy legislation, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said.
Kiev has long said that Russia prefers to use natural gas as a geopolitical weapon. So far, Ukraine and Russia have had 4 major gas conflicts: in 2005-2006, 2008-2009, 2013-2014 and 2014-2018. Russia has repeatedly tried to determine the geopolitical course of Ukraine through gas delivered at a lower or higher price. Over time, pro-Russian political parties in Kiev have used the argument that their coming to power will mean cheaper gas for the population. Russia has been blackmailing Ukraine with price increases if pro-Russian politicians were not in power.
Since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the launch of military action in Donbass, gas delivery has become a security issue for Ukraine. Gradually, the price of gas has become less important for Kiev than the future of the Ukrainian gas transportation system, which until the construction of the sea pipelines (North Stream, North Stream 2, South Stream, etc.) carried gas from Russia to EU countries. Following the construction of North Stream 2, Ukraine risks losing about $ 3 billion a year, from Gazprom's transit fees.
So the gas issue is a painful one for Ukraine. “Gazprom's monopoly on gas routes, which we are now seeing, raises the issue of the fundamental principles of the functioning of the EU gas markets - competition and transparency”, said in a press release Serghiy Makogon, the head of Ukraine's gas transmission system operator. Hungary has rejected these complaints made by Ukraine. The Hungarian Foreign Minister summoned the Ukrainian ambassador, accusing an attempt to block the new long-term agreement between Hungary and Russia on the provision of natural gas supplied by Gazprom. The head of the MFA in Budapest, Peter Szijjarto, said that this was a “violation of Hungary's sovereignty”. The gas issue was used by the Russian government-controlled media to promote “apocalyptic” messages about the future of the Ukrainian state, which has once again been betrayed by the West.
PURPOSE: The purpose of the narrative is to sow distrust in the Ukrainian political leadership, but also in Kiev’s Western partners. Disinformation seeks to arouse regrets in Ukrainian society over Ukraine’s moving away from Russia, without any mention being made, though, of the conflict in Donbass, supported by Moscow, or the annexation of Crimea.
WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: In reality, the message promoted by the Russian press about the collapse of Ukraine following the delivery of Russian gas to Hungary is not based on economic arguments. The narrative presents Russia as a rescuer of Ukraine, and the West - as an enemy. The contract between Hungary and Russia has nothing to do with the liquefied gas in the US, just as the situation in Ukraine has nothing to do with that in Afghanistan. Speaking about the reckless actions of Ukrainian politicians, pro-Russian parliamentarian Ilia Kiva is considering Kiev's policy of moving away from the Russian world. It should be noted that the deputy quoted by the Russian press is a member of a pro-Russian party, who often participates in shows on the Russian state television stations, often criticizing the pro-European forces in Ukraine.
Russia has been striving since 2005 to build gas pipelines that would allow it to keep Ukraine in check. In previous energy conflicts, Kiev has managed to escape Moscow's blackmail due to its gas transportation system. Relationships were built on the informal principle: “Your blackmail on the price of gas equals our blackmail on the price of transit”. Ukrainian military experts are also worried that Russia's abandonment of the Ukrainian transit system could translate into a green light for the Kremlin to start a war against Ukraine at any moment. Until now, there was a risk of damaging the pipelines through which Russian gas reached the EU.
On the other hand, Ukraine is looking for solutions. There are also some promises from Western states. The US and Germany have promised Kiev that they will put pressure on Russia not to turn gas into a geopolitical weapon and to maintain the transit via Ukraine. At the same time, during the recent visit of the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Berlin, Germany promised to invest in the development of hydrogen-based energy in Ukraine to make up for the economic losses caused by the construction of North Stream 2. Moreover, Ukraine has its own gas reserves, and unused continental and maritime rigs, which require investment. Therefore, the delivery of Russian gas to Hungary will not cause the collapse of Ukraine, and the “fatal story of another Afghanistan” could only take place following a foreign military intervention - most likely by Russia.