Ever since yesterday I have been mulling over the mysterious Swiss visits of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and János Lázár, his chief of staff. As I mentioned yesterday, Demokratikus Koalíció suspects that Viktor Orbán’s recent trip to Switzerland and his stopover in Zurich between Lausanne and Budapest had something to do with banking, perhaps of a private nature. However, we know for sure, thanks to the information released by the prime minister’s office, that János Lázár’s trip to Switzerland at the end of March 2013 was undertaken in order “to have talks with a German citizen” and that the topic of the conversation was “Hungarian-German and Hungarian-Russian relations.” This led me to another angle: the large presence of Gazprom in Switzerland.
Just in Zug, a tax haven south of Zurich, three Gazprom companies have their headquarters, or to be more precise it is in Zug that they are incorporated: Gazprom Marketing & Trading AG at 19 Dammstrasse, the Nord Stream AG at 18 Industriestrasse, and the joint Russian-Ukrainian RosUkrEnergo AG at 7 Bahnhofstrasse. There are hundreds of Gazprom subsidiaries, and it is instructive to take a look at them collected in one place. I went to a few of their official websites. Gazprom Marketing & Trading AG opened for business in February 2012 “aiming to support Gazprom’s international development strategy.” They “trade natural gas, power, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, clean energy and carbon, and oil.” The Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream AG is an international consortium of five major companies.
And let’s not forget about the Zurich based Gazprom Group, which has several subsidiaries, of which “the most spectacular company is Gazprom Switzerland AG.” The company is situated in the heart of Zurich’s financial district and deals in natural gas from Central Asia. Gazprom Switzerland is a wholly owned subsidiary of Gazprom Germany (Gazprom Germania), which is itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Gazprom Export, Russia. According to TagesAnzeiger of Zurich, this company has about two dozen employees yet in 2012 it generated sales of CHF 7.3 billion and a profit of 76.1 million.
Here we arrive at an intriguing piece of information. The chairman of Gazprom Switzerland is Matthias Warnig, formerly head of the Russian division of Germany’s Dresdner Bank AG, who in his earlier life in the German Democratic Republic worked for the Stasi. Back in 2005 The Wall Street Journal found documents that proved that as a major in the East German intelligence service he developed a close friendship with Vladimir Putin during the time that he worked in East Germany as a KGB agent. Apparently Warnig helped him recruit spies in the West. Warnig is not just the chairman of Gazprom Switzerland but also a director of Nord Stream with headquarters in Zug.
Warnig is a very powerful man indeed, but the Ukrainian crisis is having a negative effect on his network. He is a member of the board of directors of several Russian banks, including the Bank of Rossiya and VTB Bank, whose assets have been frozen by the United States. Warnig is also a board member of the energy company Rosneft and of Rusal, an aluminium producer. Both are the largest companies in their field in the world. An excellent summary of the history of Warnig’s friendship with Putin can be found in The Guardian (August 13, 2014).
Is it possible that János Lázár talked with Warnig, the “German citizen”? Warnig would have had the clout to deal not only with energy supplies but also with inter-country friendship. It’s possible that Lázár solicited Warnig’s assistance in reaching out to Putin about the future of Russian-Hungarian relations and Paks. The reference to “Hungarian-Russian relations” points in this direction.
The August 2014 trip of Orbán and Lázár in the company of their wives might have had something to do with Gazprom affairs. Someone spotted them on a flight to Zurich on Thursday, August 21. According to Orbán, they spent Thursday night with friends in Germany, but even if this was the case, there was a whole Friday during which the two men could have conducted business with Gazprom officials. Zurich, as we have learned, is the perfect place for such transactions.
Viktor Orbán’s most recent trip to Switzerland followed a different pattern. No serious business can be conducted in a train station during a quick stopover, especially not on such serious matters as Russian-Hungarian relations or energy supplies by Gazprom. Demokratikus Koalíció might be on the right track: it’s possible that Orbán was conducting a different kind of business, very possibly of a private nature.
All this is thoroughly speculative. Perhaps someone with better access to Hungarian and Russian energy providers or government “travel planners” will ferret out the truth.