Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán concluded extensive talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week as tensions simmer between Russia and the West. The Hungarian premier stressed that proposed sanctions against Moscow would be “pointless” and offered that the gap between Russia’s “security demands” and NATO members’ willingness can be bridged.
After nearly five hours of talks in the Russian capital on 1 February with President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán hailed his country’s successful relations with Russia and blasted proposed sanctions against Moscow over the situation in Ukraine as pointless. Orbán’s self-ascribed “peace mission” came at a time when tensions between Russia and the West are running high over fears that Moscow may invade Ukraine. Orbán highlighted that sanctions against Russia if it takes military action against Ukraine would be “doomed to failure” and that Russian security demands were reasonable.
The Hungarian model
Orbán, who met with Putin 11 times ahead of this week’s visit since coming to power in 2010, said the European Union was “united” and not a single European leader wanted a conflict with Russia. “We can see from history that in times of conflict between East and West, central Europe always lost out,” Orbán said, adding that the Cold War period “brought us great bitterness and suffering”.
Reiterating his government ‘s earlier stance that the solution to the current situation lies in peaceful diplomatic negotiations, the Hungarian premier welcomed the “dialogue under way between Russia and our Western allies.”
“What we can offer is the Hungarian model,” he said. Hungary, a member of both NATO and the European Union, enjoys “excellent ties” with Russia based on mutual respect.
Both the European Union and NATO have pledged to respond forcefully to a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The president was very calm and said that Russia’s demands for security guarantees are normal and should be the basis for negotiations,” said Orbán. “And I agree with that. We must negotiate.”
Orbán noted that there was a “wide gap” between Russia’s security demands and the willingness of NATO member states to fulfill them. But the gap “can be bridged”, he said, adding that it would be possible to sign an agreement guaranteeing peace and Russian security that was acceptable to NATO member states. He expressed hope that such an agreement could be reached through negotiations in the days or weeks ahead.
Putin said NATO had cheated Russia because it failed to keep its promise not to expand eastwards. Further, against Moscow’s wishes, it terminated an anti-ballistic missile agreement, and “soon” NATO would place strike weapons in Romania and Poland. He noted that Ukraine had made clear that it was prepared to recapture the Crimea peninsula even by force. “Let’s imagine what would happen if Ukraine were a NATO member,” he said.
Hungary is an “important partner” of Russia in Europe and energy plays an important role in bilateral economic relations, Putin said. Russia had been supplying energy to Hungary for many years, covering 55 percent of its oil consumption and 80 percent of its gas consumption.
Whereas Europe may encounter problems with its gas supply, Hungary’s supply was secure thanks to its contract with Russia for 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year until 2036, Putin noted. Hungarian consumers, he added, had access to gas at well below the market price.
Orbán seeks to increase the amount of gas delivered by Russia to Hungary under the long-term gas supply agreement. Following his meeting with Putin, the Hungarian premier said that substantive talks on increasing the amount of Russian long-term gas deliveries to Hungary by one billion cubic meters a year can move forward. If talks on this agreement succeed, “we will secure Hungary’s energy supply permanently,” the prime minister said.
Putin said he expected the final decision on Orbán’s request to be made at the beginning of April, but said he did not think that the requested increase of 1 billion cubic meters “should be some big problem for us.”
Both leaders hailed Hungarian-Russian relations as “balanced, positive and constructive.” Orbán said that Hungary was committed to ensuring relations continued on the same path. Putin, in turn, expressed his hope he would be able to continue working with Orbán after the April 3 Hungarian general elections.
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