Foreign Affairs
Budapest, 2017. február 2.
Orbán Viktor miniszterelnök (j) és Vlagyimir Putyin orosz elnök kezet fog a tárgyalásuk után tartott sajtótájékoztató végén a Parlament Vadásztermében 2017. február 2-án.
MTI Fotó: Szigetváry Zsolt

Russian President Putin: “Hungary Is Trusted, Stable And Solvent Partner”

Hungary is trusted, stable and solvent partner, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Budapest at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest. “It is in our interests to cooperate,” Putin said.

Budapest, 2017. február 2. Orbán Viktor miniszterelnök (j) és Vlagyimir Putyin orosz elnök sajtótájékoztatót tart tárgyalásuk után a Parlament Vadásztermében 2017. február 2-án. MTI Fotó: Szigetváry Zsolt

Energy security

Hungary and Russia will soon begin talks on extending gas supply agreements between the two countries beyond 2021, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at the press conference held in the Hungarian Parliament building.

Russian President Vladimir Putin underlined his country’s commitment to supplying gas to Hungary with “100% reliability”. Moscow has not made it a political goal to stop transmissions of gas through Ukraine; if the route is reliable and makes economic sense, Russia will supply its gas via Ukraine, he said, adding that Hungary has the technical means to receive gas through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline via Austria or Slovakia.

“We will find a way to implement gas supplies. I’d like to depoliticise issues that are purely economic.” “I’d stress that we do not rule out any direction [of gas supplies],” Putin said, adding that even Bulgaria may come into play after having yielded to European Commission pressure. “If it reconsiders its stance, then we could renegotiate the issue. But I’d like assurances that Russian companies are not going to make losses due to unconsidered decisions.” Putin emphasised the importance of dialogue, equally with Brussels and bilaterally.

Viktor Orbán said the question concerning the stability of energy supplies via Ukraine was unavoidable and “several uncertainties are known”. Whereas Hungary has always been interested in diversification, the EU prevented the South Stream project from going ahead. The Hungarian and Slovak networks are interconnected and this means Hungary can receive gas from the north. Russia is not opposed to this, he added. Russian raw material should reach Hungary under all circumstances and Putin has guaranteed this, Orbán said. Since Croatia and Romania do not guarantee reverse flows, Putin’s assurance that Hungary will always receive the required oil and gas is “vitally important”, he added.

Paks upgrade

Regarding the upgrade of Hungary’s sole nuclear power plant in Paks, which is being financed by a loan from Russia, Orbán said that most obstacles to the nuclear cooperation between the two countries have been cleared. He insisted that the bilateral agreements on the project were in line with European Union rules. The EU will soon come to a decision on the single remaining open question, on state aid, in connection with the project, he said. Preparatory works on the upgrade are set to get under way later this year, with the actual implementation of the project scheduled to begin next year, the prime minister said.

The Russian president said that over the past three years bilateral trade turnover had halved and that investments had also declined. In order to advance investments and trade, the two countries will intensify cooperation in the energy sector, he said, adding that Russia attributed great importance to the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant. The 12 billion euro investment covering the construction of the plant’s two new reactors will create 10,000 new jobs in Hungary, he said. The president also noted that Hungarian oil and gas company MOL plans to boost production at its fields in Russia.

EU-Russia sanctions

On the topic of European Union sanctions against Russia, Viktor Orbán said that he saw a chance for developing balanced and stable relations between the European Union and Russia, which, he said, was a precondition for peace in Europe. He said “it is in the air” that the world is undergoing a major transformation, adding that this transformation would create better conditions for European-Russian cooperation, including Hungarian-Russian cooperation, compared with “what has been experienced in recent years”.

The Prime Minister said Hungary had suffered 6.5 billion dollars in losses because of the sanctions. He said it was “mistaken” to make an economic problem out of a political one because then “everybody loses out”. “It is difficult to imagine Hungary being successful without developing open, strong and fruitful economic and trade cooperation with the most important players in the global economy,” he said. He added that cooperation between Hungary and Russia was something to be “cherished”.

Bilateral ties

“As a result of dedicated work in recent years, when risks were also taken, we have managed to rescue and protect Russian-Hungarian relations as much as possible and we have a good starting position so that when the world returns to the logic of cooperation, the Hungarian economy can start off from a good position in the Russian market,” Viktor Orbán said. Following Hungarian agricultural companies, firms in the water industry will also get opportunities to invest and develop in Russia insofar as they are competitive, he said, adding that “this represents a breakthrough in foreign trade.”

“Hungary seeks to maintain open and transparent ties with Russia”, he said, noting that relations are reviewed at the highest level each year. Orbán noted that Putin was returning his own visit to Russia last year. Agreements signed in the past two years have been fulfilled by both sides, including the signing of a deal on regional cooperation, the opening of a Hungarian consulate-general in Kazany, the signing of a diplomatic consultation plan and the fulfilment of energy agreements which ensure gas supplies to Hungary until 2021, Orbán said.

Cultural cooperation plans have also been fulfilled, scholarships have been granted to students in each other’s countries and the Hungarian government has decided to renovate Russian orthodox churches and allocated the necessary funds, he said.

Combating terrorism

In response to a question concerning Hungary’s place in the world, Orbán said, notwithstanding national pride, Russia and Hungary moved in different dimensions and “it is a great virtue if one knows his place”. Hungary only sets goals that fit with its size and influence.  When Putin briefed him about the situation in Syria, Orbán said that among all the political and peace-making efforts, Hungary could only contribute to those that aim to protect the local Christians because “that’s what we have capacity for”. Hungary also contributes in several international missions even when it cannot play a dominant role in them, he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were in agreement about the need to strengthen cooperation in the fight against international terrorism. “We were in agreement that our efforts need to be unified,” Putin said. He added that he had briefed Orbán about Russia’s position in connection with the situation in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, and also about events in the Middle East. Putin expressed hope that resolving the problems in the Middle East would contribute to the easing of Europe’s migration crisis. “We are working together with our Hungarian partners in the aforementioned areas,” Putin said.

Ukraine crisis

The Russian president blamed Kiev for the recent escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine. He argued that the Ukrainian government was looking to present itself as a victim of the flareup in order to win financial support from the West. Putin also insisted that the country’s economic and social policies had failed. The Ukrainian government, he added, was trying to use the conflict as a way to silence its opposition. He said another reason for the escalation of the conflict was that Kiev had no intention of adhering to the Minsk ceasefire agreement and was therefore searching for an excuse to pull out of it. Putin said Russia expected that “rational-minded” forces in Ukraine and other countries would not allow any further escalation of the fighting, and would force the Ukrainian leaders to implement the Minsk agreement, he said.

Viktor Orbán said a successful and stable Ukraine would be in Hungary’s interest, and the basis for this is peace. Peace should develop in line with the Minsk agreement, which, he said, includes vitally important elements for ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine. Orbán said Hungary and Russia were being forced to work together in a “difficult international environment”, as anti-Russian policies have become popular in western Europe.

Opposition reactions

Hungarian leftist and liberal opposition parties criticised the government for giving up principled resistance to Russia’s assertion of its interests in the region all for the sake of energy deals and economic cooperation, while the radical nationalist Jobbik party slammed it for failing to stand up to the European Union on the issue of sanctions against Russia.

Hungary and Russia can be friends, the opposition Socialists said, commenting on talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. “We must be able to cooperate but on new foundations,” Socialist leader Gyula Molnár told a press conference. “Opening to the East should not go together with shutting off the West,” Molnár said. If any European state lets Russia too close, it could easily end up like Ukraine, he added. Commenting on Orbán, he said the same man who “chased the Russians away” 28 years ago was now “letting them return straight to the cash till”. The world changed in 2016 and 2017 and in this situation it would be the wrong decision and a “sinful step” to break away from the “strong alliance” of the European Union. In recent decades, Hungary has become part of that alliance and “it should continue finding its place in this alliance”, Molnár said.

The radical nationalist Jobbik party welcomed Putin’s visit but accused Orbán of dishonesty by insisting that the imposition of European Union sanctions against Russia had been out of Hungary’s hands. Jobbik lawmaker Márton Gyöngyösi argued that in Brussels Orbán had continually voted to extend the sanctions, while Jobbik’s standpoint was they were contrary to Hungary’s national interests. Gyöngyösi said the sanctions had caused billions of euros worth of losses to Hungary’s economy, notably in the farming sector.

Democratic Coalition leader and former Socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsány called for Hungary to stand by Europe, “which Russia threatens”, amid the current global political transformation. Speaking at a press conference after the talks, he said that back in 2007 Orbán had said Hungary could only expect subordination and dependence by turning eastwards. Political pragmatism should not be confused with abandoning one’s interests and principles, Gyurcsány said. No Russian investment can be large enough for us to ignore Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, he added. It is not in Hungary’s interest to expand the nuclear power station in Paks and all efforts should be made to stop the expansion plan and maintain the embargo against Russia, Gyurcsány insisted.

Green party LMP said Orbán had “betrayed the nation” all for the sake of gas supplies and perceived or real economic advantages. Péter Ungár, the party’s foreign policy spokesman, said Orbán had represented his own and his circles’ economic interests rather than Hungary’s at Thursday’s talks. He criticised Orbán for what he said was the prime minister’s failure to acknowledge a national interest to stand up for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. He also slammed the prime minister for becoming “totally subservient” to Russia’s interests on energy matters. He insisted that Orbán should have cancelled the agreement on the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant.

The left-wing Dialogue Party (PM) accused ruling Fidesz and Jobbik of serving Russia’s national interests over those of Hungary. Hungary’s national interests would best be served by reducing or ending Hungary’s dependence on Russian energy supplies, spokesman Bence Tordai told a press conference. The sole purpose of the Russian president’s visit was to prove that he was “welcomed like a king” in an EU and NATO member state and “he has his foot in the door”, Tordai said. He called it a “lie” that Hungary had lost out on 6.5 billion US dollars of exports due to the EU’s sanctions against Russia, arguing that Hungary had only lost out on about a tenth of that.

via hungarymatters.hu and MTI; photos: Zsolt Szigetváry – MTI