Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have underlined their commitment to bilateral relations amidst escalating international tensions stemming from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This reaffirmation of ties occurred during their recent encounter at an international forum held in China.
Viktor Orbán became the first European Union leader to publicly shake hands with President Putin since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The meeting took place during a two-day forum commemorating the 10th anniversary of China's Belt and Road Initiative.
During their discussions, Orbán and Putin explored potential cooperation in the transportation of natural gas and crude oil, along with matters related to nuclear energy. Orbán emphasized Hungary's historical inclination not to confront Russia but, instead, to focus on enhancing communication and cooperation. President Putin acknowledged the differences in their positions but emphasized the importance of exchanging views.
Hungary has maintained close ties with Russia over the years and has resisted several European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to the Ukraine conflict. Hungary's stance is particularly significant in the context of an impending EU decision in December on whether to commence accession talks with Ukraine, a decision requiring unanimous approval from the EU's 27 member states.
To garner Budapest's support for providing further aid to Ukraine, including the initiation of membership negotiations, the European Commission is reportedly contemplating the release of billions of euros to Hungary, funds that had been previously withheld due to concerns about the rule of law.
Despite the challenging geopolitical environment, Putin expressed satisfaction over Russia's ongoing relations with various European countries, particularly highlighting Hungary's role in this context.
Orbán's press chief, Bertalan Havasi, confirmed to Reuters that the talks between Orbán and Putin encompassed subjects such as gas and oil shipments and nuclear energy. It is worth noting that, under a 2014 contract, the Russian energy giant Rosatom is engaged in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Hungary.
Orbán underscored the significance of ending sanctions on Russia and resolving the conflict in Ukraine, which aligns with broader European goals. Additionally, the issue of refugee flow was addressed during the discussions.
The talks marked the latest encounter between Putin and Orbán, with their last meeting occurring in February 2022, a mere three weeks before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, referred to by Russia as a "special military operation."
The sight of an EU leader openly engaging with President Putin drew strong reactions. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas described the images as "very, very unpleasant" and questioned the wisdom of shaking hands with an individual accused of waging an aggressive war, especially in the context of Hungary's historical perspective.
Kallas emphasized the need to increase the cost of aggression through new sanctions, addressing existing circumvention methods, and finding ways to enable Ukraine to access frozen assets. She also underscored the ongoing nature of the conflict, characterizing it as a "war of attrition."
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