Serbia to store gas at Hungarian sites ahead of winter

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Gas valves are seen at Zsana Storage Site in Zsana, Hungary, May 20, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

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BUDAPEST, May 25 (Reuters) - Hungary will allow Serbia to store natural gas in its gas storage facilities for next winter, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Wednesday after talks with Serbia's finance minister.

Belgrade plans to direct 500 million cubic metres of gas to Hungarian storage facilities by the end of June, Serbia's Finance Minister Sinisa Mali said at a press conference with Szijjarto.

"We agreed that in the currently extremely critical times when energy security is not a natural condition ... we will contribute to guaranteeing each other's energy security," Szijjarto said.

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Hungary has considerably more gas storage capacity than its neighbours at more than 6 billion cubic metres, which is currently only around a quarter full even as it fills up for winter.

It imports most of its gas from Russia via a pipeline through Serbia. The two countries will also double the interconnector capacity of their electricity grids, a project that will take 6-8 years to complete.

Mali said that Serbia, also almost totally dependent on Russian gas, would have a total of 3 billion cubic meters in storage by October, including that in Hungary.

Szijjarto reiterated that Hungary would not support the EU's proposal for an oil embargo on Russia until there is a solution that ensures Hungary's energy security.

Budapest has said it would need about 750 million euros in short-term investment to upgrade refineries and expand a pipeline bringing oil from Croatia, and billions of euros more to shift its economy away from Russian oil.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that the proposed new sanctions against Russia should not be discussed at next week's summit of EU leaders. read more

Szijjarto added that every country is free to decide whether they buy oil from Russia or not, but stressed that unanimity was required for approving EU sanctions.

Belgrade, performing a delicate balancing act between its European aspirations and its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia, has condemned Russia's actions in Ukraine but declined to impose sanctions on Moscow.

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Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves Editing by David Goodman, Kirsten Donovan

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