On November 15, Ukraine notified Transneft that it was suspending the pumping of oil through the southern branch of the Druzhba oil pipeline in the direction of Hungary due to a voltage drop. In this regard, the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban convened the Security Council on Tuesday evening, where this issue was discussed, among other things. On Wednesday, November 16, the official representative of Transneft Igor Demin said that, according to the Ukrainian side, it does not plan to resume oil transportation through Druzhba that day.
After clarifying the circumstances of the incident, the Hungarian Foreign Minister Petr Szijjarto said that the reason for the suspension was damage to the Ukrainian energy infrastructure due to a Russian missile strike. At the same time, he stressed that the gas pipeline itself was not damaged – only the transformer station necessary for supplying electricity was damaged. According to Szijjártó, it will be repaired soon. He also added that Hungary’s oil reserves would last for three months.
“Repairing, of course, takes less time than if the arrival came through the pipeline itself. So, it will probably be possible to resume deliveries through the pipeline within a short time, of course, after the identification of specific damages made by technical specialists. Hungary has oil reserves for several months, Hungary’s energy supply is out of danger,” Szijjártó said.
Recall that the Druzhba oil pipeline originates in the Samara region, passes through Bryansk and then branches into two sections: northern (through the territory of Belarus, Poland, Germany) and southern (through the territory of Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary). For Hungary, which has no access to the sea, this is the main way to obtain oil, so after lengthy discussions, an exception was even made for it in the sanctions regime, which prohibits the supply of Russian oil to the EU countries.
Of course, part of Druzhba’s infrastructure could have been damaged during the strikes, but it is worth noting that its deliberate damage is absolutely not in the interests of the Russian Federation. At the same time, it is hardly possible now to check whether the oil pipeline was actually damaged or whether these are just statements from Kyiv. In any case, the current situation can be used by the Ukrainian authorities to put pressure on Hungary, which, from the very beginning of the special operation, does not fully share the line of the European Union regarding Ukraine and Russia.
It is Budapest that constantly opposes the aggravation of energy restrictions against Russia, in many respects precisely because it depends on oil supplies through Druzhba. If these deliveries are not made due to technical reasons, does this not mean that Hungary will lose any grounds for objection?
Also, the “timing” of Friendship’s damage doesn’t seem to be random. The oil pipeline, according to Kyiv, was damaged on November 15, and exactly one day earlier, on November 14, Foreign Minister Petr Szijjarto said that Hungary was the only EU country not to participate in the training of Ukrainian soldiers and finance the mission launched by the European Commission this week. We recall that it provides for the training of 15 thousand military personnel, is designed for two years and will require 106.7 million euros.
In addition, on November 12, the Hungarian deputy Laszlo Torokay published a post on Twitter on the occasion of Poland’s Independence Day. The politician wished the country to have a common border with Hungary again and attached to the post a photograph from 1939, which shows border guards shaking hands, standing on the Polish-Hungarian border, formed after the capture of Transcarpathia by Hungary. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry condemned the deputy’s statement and called calls for a revision of the borders unacceptable. In general, whatever one may say, although Druzhba could indeed have been damaged, the story is more like an attempt by Kyiv to punish Budapest and force it to be more loyal to the common EU line.
Energy expert, President of the Foundation “Osnovanie” Alexey Anpilogov does not rule out that there may be an attempt to put pressure on Hungary, but admits that the transfer of oil through the Druzhba will indeed be at risk when problems in the Ukrainian electricity industry accumulate even more.
– An oil pipeline, like any large object, requires energy for its operation, first of all, electricity. In gas pipelines, energy is provided by gas turbines that run on the same natural gas, although electricity is also needed there for the correct functioning of all automation and control systems. But the oil pipeline uses liquid pumps, which are driven by electric motors. Therefore, for him, the availability of electricity is critical.
We can hardly say for sure whether this incident is a provocation on the Ukrainian side or whether the supply systems were really damaged. The oil pipeline runs through the territory of Ukraine and it is the Kyiv regime that controls its performance and operates the Ukrainian section. We can only rely on the official statements of Kyiv and the transport company.
“SP”: – But purely hypothetically, can this be a factor of pressure on Hungary?
– Of course, it can. Hungary is one of the few EU countries that does not have access to the sea. It depends on pipeline transportation of energy carriers. It is no coincidence that it was for the Druzhba gas pipeline that an exemption from the new EU sanctions was agreed, which prohibits EU countries from purchasing Russian oil. Hungary was the only country that was granted a special regime for obtaining oil. If it is violated, they will be forced to join the pan-European embargo or request a new special regime for themselves with the provision of transit by rail from ports, for example, the ports of Croatia located on the Adriatic Sea.
I can say that the situation is ambiguous. On the one hand, the Russian Federation and the VSK of Russia should objectively continue to strike, because the tasks and goals set include, among other things, depriving Ukraine of the opportunity to use the electric power industry for military logistics. On the other hand, it is clear that collateral damage to civilian infrastructure is almost inevitable. It will be aggravated with the deterioration of the situation in the electric power industry. And at some point in time, the Druzhba oil pipeline will still share the general regime in this area, where rolling blackouts have already begun throughout the country. If the strikes continue, it could be multi-day blackouts, which will be extremely difficult for Ukraine to cope with.
“SP”: – That is, pumping through the “Druzhba” is in any case under threat, but there are no such problems with gas?
— Yes, there are gas turbines in gas pipelines that can provide backup power, they can be powered by electric generators. In fact, the gas itself will pump gas, as is happening now. From gas it is possible to produce the same electricity. Theoretically, it is possible to supply an oil pipeline with autonomous backup sources powered by the same oil. It can be gas-piston units. But this is a freelance system, now Druzhba depends on the common Ukrainian power grid, which, after ongoing strikes by the RF Armed Forces, is increasingly going out of its normal state, first plunging into rolling blackouts, and then multi-day power outages with a critical lack of power in the system as a whole .
“SP”: – Will this situation affect the position of the Hungarian authorities in relation to Ukraine and Russia?
“We can only speculate, as we don’t know what the Hungarian politicians will do. They found themselves in a rather difficult situation and now they will have to choose some kind of rhetoric and mechanism of action. They have a small buffer period, which Hungary created by using Druzhba more actively. But any reserves, even strategic ones, are not infinite.
I think that now the priority for Budapest will be the creation of alternative logistics through third countries for oil. If an alternative route already exists for gas, this is the route through Serbia, which can provide the capacity of the Turkish Stream, but for oil, these mechanisms have yet to be created.