BUDAPEST, October 30. /TASS/. Russia will welcome participation of Hungary in the TurkStream gas pipeline project, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday at a press conference after talks with Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban.
"Regarding the timeline for Hungary’s connection to the TurkStream, as far as I perceive, and the Prime Minister will correct me, if I am wrong, participation in this project is interesting for Hungary from the standpoint of supporting its energy security and increasing its role in the European energy sector at large. We would only welcome it, if this takes place," Putin stated.
Activities on the TurkStream gas pipeline project with Bulgaria and Serbia will be completed by the end of next year, the Russian president informed.
"We will complete the whole TurkStream at the turn of this year. We have already finished work in respect of the Black Sea and will complete the work onshore. We will complete activities together with Bulgarian and Serbian partners approximately at the end of the next year," the president reported.
The TurkStream section will stretch only 15 km along the Hungarian territory, the Russian President said. "In general, we can coordinate it with our colleagues and start this work as early as in the beginning of the next year, and complete it rather quickly," he added.
The TurkStream gas pipeline goes across the Black Sea to the European part of Turkey and then to the border with Greece. The first line is intended for supplies to the Turkish market and the second one for deliveries to countries of Southern and Southeastern Europe.
Denmark’s decision on Nord Stream 2
Russia welcomes the decision of Denmark on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, President Vladimir Putin stated.
"Yes, indeed, we have become aware today that Danish authorities issued a permit for work in their exclusive economic zone. We welcome such a decision. Denmark proved to be a responsible participant in international communications, defending its interests and its sovereignty, and interests of its principal partners in Europe, which are highly keen on diversifying supplies of Russian hydrocarbons to the European market," Putin said.
The Danish Energy Agency granted a permit to Nord Stream 2 AG to construct a section of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline southeast of the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, the agency reported in a press release on Wednesday. Nord Stream 2 AG, the project operator, said it would initiate the preparatory work and the pipelay in Denmark in coming weeks.
Ties with EU
Putin and Orban have also discussed the prospects of normalization of Russia-EU relations, regulation in Ukraine and energy transit.
"Of course, we have discussed Ukrainian crisis regulation, namely in the context of Russian energy supply routes both to Hungary and our major consumers in Europe," Putin said during a press conference on the outcomes of the talks with Orban.
He stressed that energy cooperation with Hungary is a priority due to Russia supplying about 60% of Hungarian demand for oil and 50% of its demand for natural gas. According to the Russian leader, cooperation with Hungary is this sphere functions at a high level "without interruption."
The Russian leader hailed the signing of an agreement between Russia’s Transneft, Lukoil and Hungaria’s MOL, which would help raise the export of Russian fuel to Hungary. He noted that Russia sees Hungary as a priority partner for distribution of Russian gas to Europe via existing and new routes.
Earlier on Wednesday, Russia’s Lukoil and Transneft and Hungary’s MOL signed documents on extension of the long-term contract of oil supplies to Hungary and Slovakia until July 2025. Documents were signed by Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekperov, chief executive of Transneft Nikolai Tokarev and MOL CEO Zsolt Hern·di.
Readiness for Normandy Four meeting
The Russian president said he was ready for Normandy Four meetings, but they need through preparations.
"We are always ready for any meetings, including the Normandy Four talks, in case they are arranged thoroughly and do not end up with empty talk, but bring about tangible results, which in general could help find solutions," Putin claimed.
Russia-Ukraine gas dispute
Putin also said Russia and Ukraine need to reduce mutual claims in the gas dispute to zero.
"The issue is exclusively in the sphere of disputes of arbitration nature, absolute absurd from our point of view, when, for example, an attempt is made is to claim seven billion dollars via Ukrainian courts from Gazprom for payment because it holds a monopolistic position on the transit market. For all that, Gazprom does not make any transit, Ukrainian companies perform the transit. This is merely absurd! The same occurs in Stockholm," the Russian leader said.
We "should get rid of this absurd, set claims from both sides to zero," Putin said. "We are ready for the meaningful work on gas pumping via Ukraine and on gas supplies to Ukraine, with a significant price cut, as distinct from the price effective for consumers of Russian gas in Ukraine at present," he added.
Pullback of forces in Donbass
Disengagement of forces in Donbass is not "an extremely thorny issue," but it has an enormous impact on the conflict settlement, Vladimir Putin noted.
"It is not an extremely thorny issue in fact, [namely] the disengagement of conflicting parties along the contact line in two inhabited localities," the Russian leader said.
"It has been dragging on for years," he added. "I am unaware whether the Ukrainian authorities will find a final solution to this issue, but much depends on it from the point of view of settling the situation in Donbass," Putin stressed.
Putin found it difficult to assess whether Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky would be capable of handling nationalists in the areas where forces are scheduled to be disengaged in southeastern Ukraine.
"Naturally, Mr. Zelensky does not look like a Ukrainian nationalist, but it is hard to say now whether he could cope with them," the Russian leader said .
Putin noted that he does not think he is authorized to evaluate Zelensky’s actions in his contacts with nationalists.
"I do not know whether he was right choosing this form of communication, as both president and supreme commander-in-chief, trying to persuade at the contact line the people who are refusing to obey his orders," the Russian president said suggesting the journalists should come forward with their conclusions.
"The question is whether he [Zelensky] will bring to an end what he has announced in public and what he himself believes appropriate to do," Putin noted.
"It is not an extremely thorny issue in fact, [namely] the disengagement of conflicting parties along the contact line in two inhabited localities," the Russian leader said. "It has been dragging on for years," he added.
Putin pointed out that the process had been protracted due to nationalists’ unwillingness to leave the areas designated for disengagement of forces.
"I am unaware whether the Ukrainian authorities will find a final solution to this issue, but much depends on it from the point of view of settling the situation in Donbass," Putin stressed.
Support for Christians in Middle East
Putin said on Wednesday at a meeting with heads of Christian churches in the Middle East Russia was worried about a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East and their plight in that region.
"Russia makes persistent and consistent efforts to help achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. It is well-known that our country has done much to battle such universal evil as terrorism, including in the Middle East in general and on Syrian soil in particular, as well as ISIS (the former abbreviation for the Islamic State terrorist group banned in Russia - TASS)," the Russian president said.
The Russian president pointed out that "despite the fact the Middle East is the cradle of Christianity, we can however witness that the Christians in the Middle East are struggling now."
"There are killings, violence and robberies. We are witnessing an exodus of Christians from the Middle East, what is more, a mass exodus. This cannot but make us alarmed," Putin said.
He emphasized that Christian culture is the cornerstone of Russian self-identification.
"We cannot see without tears the plight of Christians in the Middle East," Putin said. The Russian president noted that it was known in general what was going on in the Middle East and the needs of Christians were understandable, but he asked the hierarchs to give their assessments of the situation.
"And what else could we do to help and support you?" Putin asked.
Putin conveyed best wishes from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia to the participants in the meeting.
"I had the pleasure of talking with him today. He knows about our meeting and asked to greet you all and wish you all the best on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church."
In the meantime, Orban pointed out that a few years ago Europe raised the issues about Christian communities’ ordeal in the Middle East.
"There were lots of opinions. Nevertheless, it was hard to understand what can be done, what steps will bring about some results," Orban said. "And eventually, I decided that it would be best to ask those who live in that region, to ask the church heads who live in that region," the Hungarian prime minister said wondering what politicians could do to improve the situation.
The Primate of the Orthodox Church of Antioch, Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch of Antioch and All East Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch Joseph I of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Joseph III, and Archimandrite Filaret, a deputy chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations department attended the meeting.
Syrian Constitutional Committee
Russian President Vladimir Putin expects that the Syrian Constitutional Committee will be able to discuss the constitutional reform without outside interference, he told a press conference on the outcomes of the talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
"The work of the Constitutional Committee, the creation of which was in many ways aided by Russia along with its partners from Turkey and Iran, will facilitate political regulation of the Syrian crisis," Putin said. "As you know, a few hours ago, the first session of this committee began in Geneva. Within this committee, the government, the opposition and representatives of civil society will be able to work on the constitutional reform, state-building and sustainable development of the country directly, without outside interference."