The relations between Russia and Hungary have been traditionally based on the principle of pragmatism and respect for each other’s interests, according to the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Hungary, Vladimir Sergeev.
The relations between Russia and Hungary have been traditionally based on the principle of pragmatism and respect for each other’s interests, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Hungary, Vladimir Sergeev, who has been in this position since November 2014, tells Diplomacy&Trade. “We do take into account the situation of our partners, since Hungary is a member of NATO and EU with all the relevant obligations and limits. Nevertheless, the story of our bilateral cooperation demonstrates that concrete goals are attainable when there is good will, common sense and readiness for direct and sincere dialogue. Since 2010, we have achieved positive results despite a complicated, often unfavorable international climate, including well known western sanctions against our country,” he says.
In reaction to the observation, that among the leaders of EU member countries, it is Viktor Orbán that has the most frequent meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ambassador Sergeev says that this perception is not entirely true, Russia is ready to cooperate with all those who are interested in such a dialogue. “It is not our fault that quite often, some political forces and certain countries strive to isolate Russia. Indeed, systematic contacts between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán have given impetus for bilateral cooperation in various spheres. But I wouldn’t state that those meetings are particularly ‘sensitive’. President Putin regularly talks with other world leaders. There have been telephone conversations with Donald Trump and Angela Merkel. Active dialogue has also been maintained with the President of France Emmanuel Macron, who welcomed Mr. Putin last year in Paris and now is expected to visit Moscow in May.”
Common past to respect and accept
In the previous Russian focus of Diplomacy&Trade, the last Russian ambassador to Hungary, Alexander Tolkach said there was one thing that cast a shadow on bilateral relations, that there are people who associate Russia with the Soviet past. Ambassador Sergeev is of the view that “it is difficult enough to evaluate the personal perception of Russia by individual Hungarians, because obviously everyone has his (or her) own experience, sense and sometimes (unfortunately, not rarely) stereotypes. The history of Russian-Hungarian relations is deep-rooted, with many different periods. But this is our common past, and the wisest approach, I suppose, is to respect and to accept it. It is not good, when the past is used by politicians for momentary, opportunistic reasons, to achieve immediate political goals, without consideration for the ‘day after tomorrow’. Let us respect our history and leave its difficult pages for the historians to study. That is exactly the approach, which leaders of our two counties share.
Speaking of bilateral economic relations and where he sees room for improvement, the Ambassador highlights that the two countries have recently witnessed a rise of more than 25% in 2017 (EUR 4.9 billion) in bilateral trade. A lion’s share of Russian export is in the energy sector, however, there is a mutual interest in diversifying trade relations and investment opportunities, since it is obvious that the current level of economic cooperation is well below its potential, he says. “We already have positive examples in the fields of agriculture, machinery, engineering and even in the financial sector. Both countries have competitive products and technologies, which are called-for not only in bilateral trade, but can be complementary in approaching third party markets. One of the promising instruments of broadening our trade and investment relations today is developing regional cooperation. It is often hard to see the smaller businesses behind the large numbers and contracts signed on the governmental level, however, both sides are taking active steps in promoting the necessary conditions for direct cooperation on the ground, which, I can assure you, is in high demand on both Russian and Hungarian regional levels.”
Regarding the major Russian investors in Hungary and their contribution to the Hungarian economy, Ambassador Sergeev says that I can hardly name a recent greenfield Russian investment in Hungary like a production line or a service center – our contribution to the local economy is rather specified by the presence of some distinguished Russian commercial enterprises in the local market – mainly in the energy sector, but not solely. For example, the biggest Russian bank Sberbank has a firm stand on the Hungarian financial market. And it is encouraging that our projects here predominantly have technological, and in many cases, innovative components.”
He contends that the situation is the same in the case of the “major Hungarian national project,” the building of the two new blocks of the Paks nuclear station, which will have a broad impact on numerous economic sectors, provide a stable and affordable local energy supply, contribute to economic growth and technological development, not to mention the innovative workplaces and regional development it will support.
“Unfortunately, I have to say that the general political climate in the EU is not favorable for big Russian investment projects. The sad fate of ‘South Stream’ is an example of that. I do not even mention existing financial sanctions against Russian businesses.”
Hungarian goods remembered
Russia is a traditional market for Hungarian products (even from the Soviet times) like pharmaceuticals. When asked his opinion whether this still does/could have an effect on bilateral trade and investments, the Ambassador replies that “indeed, there is a long standing recognition of Hungarian products dating back to the old times. It is mainly about agricultural products and brands like the ‘Globus’ vegetables, poultry and ‘Tokaji’ wine. Fortunately, the latter is still present on Russian shelves though, the variety could be broader. Pharmacology is also an area with several consistent Hungarian products that are substantial on the Russian market thanks mainly to the company Gedeon Richter. No doubt, it is easy to leave a market and very hard to (re)enter it. Unfortunately, it was the case in the 1990s and there is a similar situation now despite the wishes of both sides due to certain circumstances beyond bilateral relations. The good thing is that there is a consistent mutual interest in diversifying trade relations. There are positive prospects of rediscovering each other’s markets. It is encouraging, by the way, that the volume of tourism trips between our countries is steadily growing. ”
One peculiar aspect of bilateral tourism is that of health tourism, an area where Hungarian spas like Hévis are favorite destinations for Russians. The Ambassador points out that health tourism is one of the most important parts of the Hungarian tourism industry. Hungary is famous not only for its unique thermal resorts, but also for high quality dental services, plastic surgery and ophthalmology. Hungarian thermal resorts and dental clinics annually receive about 13,000 Russian customers.
He notes that travel for Russians to Hungary became even more affordable due to the launch of WizzAir flights from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The most popular destinations among Russian tourists are the thermal resorts of Budapest, Hévíz and Hajdúszoboszló. Many companies offer comprehensive tours, including medical treatment, flights, transfer, transportation, accommodation, and cultural programs. “I would also like to point out that the attitude towards Russian tourists in Hungary is very positive. Russian tourists are known for their generosity as well.”
Football world elite in Russia
The biggest sports event in Russia, and, in fact, the world this year is the football (or soccer) World Cup, which will be hosted by 11 Russian cities: Moscow, Sochi, Kazan, Saint Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Saransk, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaliningrad and Samara. In view of the Ambassador, each of them is unique and symbolizes the richness of Russian cultural heritage. “Based on our positive experience of hosting Winter Olympics in 2014, let me assure you that the organizers will do their best to fulfill the expectations of our international guests. According to the information provided by the State Agency of Tourism, we expect up to 1.5 million foreign tourists and sport fans to visit the events of the World Cup in Russia.”
Cultural ties between our countries are rich and diverse. The names of Liszt, Bartók, Lehár, Petõfi and Munkácsy are well known in Russia, just as Russian cultural heritage is highly valued in Hungary. Thus, in 2017 Budapest received a number of Russian famous artists, such conductors Gergiev and Fedoseev, pianists Matsuev and Berezovskiy, opera stars like Netrebko, Gimadieva, Semishkur and Petrenko, troupes of Aleksandinskiy, Vakhtangov and Moscow Academic Arts Theaters. “We are witnessing the renaissance of the interest towards Russian language studied by almost five thousand Hungarian students, who are planning to use it later in business. Cooperation in sphere of higher education and scientific exchanges is dynamic. Russia is grateful to its Hungarian partners for their traditional cooperation readiness,” Ambassador Vladimir Sergeev concludes.