Reuters reports that the United States is mounting a diplomatic offensive to stop Hungary selling a stake in a Croatian energy firm to Russia, part of what Western powers see as “Budapest’s dangerous drift into Moscow’s orbit.” Since September, Hungary has stopped pumping natural gas to Ukraine, effectively pulling out of an EU-backed effort to support Kiev in the face of a Russian energy blockade, and it has renewed a commitment to build a Kremlin-backed pipeline for Russian gas, South Stream, that Washington and Brussels oppose.
According to Reuters U.S. officials are now worried that Hungarian energy firm MOL will sell its 49 percent stake in INA, Croatia’s biggest energy company, to a Russian firm, possibly state-owned Gazprom. The Hungarian state has a 24.7 percent stake in MOL. A buyer of MOL’s 49 percent stake could also acquire some of the roughly 5 percent of INA shares traded on the Zagreb bourse to gain a full majority in the Croatian company. Hungary’s MOL, which is in a dispute with Croatia over its stake in INA, said in a statement that “selling the stake in INA is a valid option.” It said that it would not disclose details about potential buyers, as a matter of principle.
Reuters also revealed that a US State Department official responsible for energy security asked a U.S. senator who was visiting Europe to make a detour to Croatia last weekend to lobby the government there on the issue. The State Department official, Amos J. Hochstein, also met Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjartó in Washington earlier this month. Western diplomats in the region have confirmed the United States is worried about a possible sale to Gazprom, a firm they describe as a tool of Kremlin policy. A Gazprom takeover would give the Russian company a strategic foothold inside the European Union, which is already its biggest customer for natural gas.
via reuters.com photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr. – bloomberg.com