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Hungary looks east as PM Orbán welcomes Vladimir Putin to Budapest

“History shows that if NATO-Russia relations are good, then Hungary is in a winning position,” Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán told reporters after meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in Budapest on October 30.

While reiterating Hungary’s commitment to the EU and to NATO, Mr Orbán said that Hungary – due to its geographical location – had a special interest in cooperating with the countries of what he called “Berlin-Istanbul-Moscow triangle.”

According to Mr Orbán, political cooperation with Russia consists of three main elements: helping Christian communities around the world, cooperating on migration issues and cooperating on the settlement of the Syrian crisis. “If the region is destabilised, more and more migrants will come to Europe through Hungary,” he said.

Responding to international criticism over his support for Turkey’s recent Syria offensive, Mr Orbán noted that the Hungarian government was still supporting Kurdish fighters in Erbil with military training and financial support.

The Hungarian PM also noted that bilateral trade with Russia had recently increased for the first time since the EU introduced sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

“Honesty is the basis for foundation between our two countries,” he went on, stressing that economic relations were largely “unbalanced” since Russia remains the main beneficiary. To balance the scales, capital investments and goods with high exportability are needed. “This would be the win-win scenario we are trying to achieve,” Mr Orbán stressed.

In turn, the Russian president also praised cooperation in economy and energy, noting that bilateral trade grew by 30 per cent to seven billion US dollars in 2018 and the Russian-built Paks-2 nuclear power plant will double Hungary’s current capacities. Mr Putin added that the two sides were working on increasing bilateral trade turnover.

Mr Orbán said that Hungary was interested in all possible energy transit routes. “We don’t want to depend on only one transit country [Ukraine],” he said, pointing to Hungary joining Russia’s TurkStream pipeline that will deliver Russian gas through Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia.

Asked why Hungary vetoed a NATO ambassadors’ statement on Ukraine, the Hungarian leader said that he would not sign it unless the Ukrainian government commits to the recommendations of the Venice Commission about defending Hungarian minorities in Ukraine’s Zakarpatia region, adding that this decision was not associated with Hungary’s Russia policy.

“There has never been a time when Hungary’s gas supplies have stood in such solid grounds,” Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said after meeting Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller, adding that cooperation with Russia contributes to Hungary’s economic growth.

The Hungarian FM noted that Hungarian pharmaceutical giant Richter would built a new plant in Russia. Hungarian-Russian joint ventures will also build dairy and meat factories close to Moscow by early 2020.

Photo: Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI)