Close, mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia is in Hungary’s interest, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said after talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in Budapest on Tuesday, adding that “our friends and allies hold the same position but they will not speak about it so openly”.
Bilateral cooperation with Russia has produced “practical and pragmatic” results, “despite a not too supportive international environment”, Szijjártó said.
The minister pointed to the “extraordinary health and economic challenges” of recent months as well as the “humanitarian and security impacts of clearly ill-advised geopolitical decisions” and called for switching to “civilized international cooperation based on mutual respect”. All through history “Hungary has always been better off when there was civilized cooperation between East and West rather than conflict”, he said.
Szijjártó said that Hungary had “benefitted greatly” from its good relations with Russia in recent times, and mentioned joint efforts concerning Covid vaccination as an example. He said that Hungary would not have been in a position to complete “Europe’s most successful vaccination drive” without the Russian Sputnik vaccine. He added that talks on producing Sputnik in Debrecen from the end of next year were “in an advanced stage”.
Concerning energy, he said that an agreement on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline “has made clear that Russia will continue to be crucial for Europe’s gas supplies in future”. Conclusion of the agreement between Western countries and Russia shows a mutually beneficial energy cooperation between the parties, and “it would not be fair to threaten (sanctions) against central or south-eastern European countries for modernising their national networks and building an alternative supply route”, he said. The Hungarian government considers the matter from a strategic point of view, he added. “There is no national sovereignty without energy security, therefore we must put our own interests first,” the foreign minister said.
Szijjártó also said that Hungary’s WizzAir would set up a base in Saint Petersburg, increase the number of flights between Budapest and Moscow from a weekly four to seven, and launch a new service between Budapest and Yekaterinburg.
On another subject, Szijjártó said that the Afghanistan situation posed a “clear and serious migration threat”. People leaving Afghanistan could easily reach Turkey from which the Western Balkans would be “just a step, and Hungary’s southern border another”. Hungary is ready to stop migrants at its borders but “we had better do it further away”, he said.
Answering a question on Ukraine, Szijjártó voiced the Orbán government’s commitment to supporting that country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, but said that curbing the rights of ethnic minorities was “unacceptable”. He added that incidents against the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia were continuous.
Hungary is and will stay a member of the European Union, and has an interest in a strong union, Szijjártó said, adding that the EU could only be successful if it was based on strong nation states. He insisted, however, that “some” were working to weaken member states and added that Hungary would “take a firm position” in those debates.
Featured photo by Lajos Soós/MTI