Hungary says will not suspend South Stream pipeline

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (R) and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban in Belgrade on July 1, 2014 (AFP Photo/Andrej Isakovic)

Belgrade (AFP) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Tuesday his country would not give up on Russia's controversial South Stream gas pipeline project as it was key to securing the country's energy supplies.

The crisis in Ukraine has made the planned pipeline bringing Siberian gas to the European Union -- bypassing Ukraine -- a new focus of tensions between Moscow, Brussels and Washington.

"We will not allow ourselves to get into a situation that our gas supplies depend on Ukraine," Orban told reporters after talks with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.

"Hungary will build up South Stream as it will secure our energy supplies," he said.

Orban said that while his country supported Ukraine, Hungary was "responsible for our citizens and energy supplies".

The premier added: "Those who say we should not build South Stream must offer an alternative as we can not live without energy."

The South Stream pipeline is a major project to reduce Moscow's reliance on Ukraine as a transit country following disputes with Kiev in 2006 and 2009 that led to interruptions of gas shipments to Europe.

The European Union has called on all 28 member states to stand united in resisting pressure from the Kremlin over the project, saying the pipeline breaches the bloc's competition rules.

But the EU appears deeply divided on the project with several member states, who depend on Russian gas transported via Ukraine, supporting it.

EU member Bulgaria earlier this month suspended work on building its section of the multi-billion-euro project following pressure from the EU and the United States.

Serbia, an EU candidate with strong relations with Russia, has remained committed to the South Stream pipeline and began working on the project in November.

With a capacity of 63 billion cubic metres per year, the main pipeline will stretch nearly 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) from Russia under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia and ending in Italy.