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Premier Viktor Orban. Photo supplied
Budapest

Orban: Western cooperation with Russia in Hungary’s interest

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Hungary’s interest lies in the improvement of cooperation between the West and Russia. He spoke at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Budapest on Wednesday.

Published: November 1, 2019, 9:12 am

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    Hungary benefits from good relations between western and eastern Europe, NATO, and Russia, the prime minister said. Hungary and Russia have been busy organising high-level summits for reviewing the state of bilateral relations, he added.

    Other subjects on the agenda included the Ukraine crisis, Syria, energy supply routes, as well as ways to consolidate Russia-EU relations.

    Orban said 2018 had been the first year trade turnover between the two countries had increased since the sanctions against Russia were imposed, exceeding 6 billion dollars. Hungary aims to produce goods it can sell on the Russian market, he explained, noting that Hungary has already launched investment projects in Russia’s meat industry as well as animal health and pharmaceutical sectors.

    He said Hungarian-Russian cooperation did not exclude his country from being a member of both NATO and the European Union.

    Orban underscored the protection of persecuted Christian communities and the issue of migration as key areas of bilateral cooperation. On migration, Orban said there were 96 000 migrants making their way to northern Europe via the Balkan migration route, which he said was a problem for Hungary.

    He added that Hungary and Russia were also cooperating in their efforts to advance the stabilisation of the Middle East and Syria. If the region becomes unstable it will trigger another exodus of migrants towards Europe.

    Asked about the protection of Middle Eastern Christian communities, Orban said Hungarians had a duty to aid Christian communities in need outside their country. Together with Russia, Hungary rebuilds churches and constructs factories that can help feed local communities, he said. In addition, Hungary builds schools and hospitals and rebuilds villages where displaced people can return to, the prime minister said.

    President Putin thanked Orban for the latter’s proposing a meeting with Middle East religious leaders in Budapest, during his visit. He said that Russia was in close cooperation with countries in the region with a view to helping persecuted Christians, as well as providing humanitarian aid to Muslims in Syria.

    He said this form of bilateral cooperation also extended to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, noting that Hungary has supported Erbil with troops, financial aid and by training local soldiers.

    Asked about Hungary’s decision to veto a joint declaration of NATO ambassadors on Ukraine, Orban noted the dispute in question was about the discrimination against and mistreatment of Transcarpathian Hungarians by the Ukrainian government.

    Hungary said any document should at the very least contain a declaration from Ukraine stating that it was ready to accept the motions put forward by the Venice Commission on minority rights. If this was not included in the document, Orban said, Hungary could not sign it as it would be akin to giving up the European rights Transcarpathian Hungarians were entitled to.

    Orban expressed hope that the situation of Transcarpathian Hungarians would improve under Ukraine’s new government, which he said was ready to hold talks on the matter. The prime minister also said that whenever Hungary voices its position on Ukraine, it does not do so because of its relationship with Russia, but rather out of its own national interests.

    Asked about the possibility of Hungary joining the TurkStream gas pipeline, Orban said the TurkStream pipeline was “a preference, the sooner we can join, the better”.

    Hungary wanted to enjoy sovereignty not just in terms of its energy supply but also with regard to the transit countries. If Hungary only receives gas from Russia via Ukraine, “it is bad from the point of view of Hungary’s sovereignty” he explained.

    The Russian leader pointed out that completion of the TurkStream gas pipeline was in Hungary’s interest, as that facility would contribute to ensuring Hungary’s energy security. The pipeline’s Black Sea section is expected to be completed before the end of this year, he added.

    Russia considers Hungary an important partner in supplying gas to Europe, Putin said. The mechanism allowing Hungary and Russia to cooperate at the highest level has been in place for several years now and has been successful, especially when it comes to trade and economic relations, Putin noted.

    The two countries are looking to diversify their relations, the president said, even though energy policy was still their top priority. Putin echoed Orban in saying that 2018 saw a jump in bilateral trade and added that the two countries were working to further increase its turnover.

    Parties at the Budapest talks signed an important package of agreements, which will further deepen ties between Hungary and Russia, Putin said. One of those accords will facilitate increasing the volume of Russian energy exports, he added.

    The Russian president said he attributed great significance to Hungary’s Paks upgrade project and added that the talks touched on other joint projects such as Hungary’s inland navigation and renovation of Budapest’s metro lines.

    Answering a question about Ukraine, Putin said it was questionable if the Ukrainian leadership could manage the situation in eastern Ukraine, adding that Russia was ready to participate in talks aimed at resolving the problems.

    Before the press conference, Hungarian and Russian officials signed eight agreements. These included a complex scheme on Hungarian-Russian interregional cooperation, an agreement on social security as well as memorandums of understanding on cooperation in the fields of oncology, sports, physical education and rail transport.

    The two sides also signed a reinsurance agreement between Hungary’s Eximbank and Russia’s Exiar, a cooperation pact between Hungary’s Gyor-Moson-Sopron County and Russia’s Samara County and a cooperation agreement between oil and gas company MOL and Russian companies Lukoil and Transneft.

    Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto earlier said that Russian gas deliveries to Hungary through the TurkStream pipeline could start in the second half of 2021.

    In an interview with Russian state TV broadcaster Rossiya 24 in March, the Hungarian foreign minister said that Hungary considered Russian energy investments in Serbia and Bulgaria highly significant since Russia and Ukraine have not yet managed to agree on transit deliveries to Europe.

    “Hungary will realise the minimal infrastructure projects required for this in such a way that the physical opportunity for the use of the new route will already be available at the beginning of next year,” the foreign minister noted about the extension of TurkStream.

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