Orban thanks Putin for gas deal
With tensions heating up in eastern Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin has met his Hungarian counterpart Prime Minister Viktor Orban for talks in Moscow on Tuesday, at which the pair underscored their friendly partnership, despite worsening relations between East and West.
The two leaders, who have been colleagues for more than a decade, greeted each other familiarly, and Putin said he preferred face-to-face meetings over telephone calls.
The Russian president also emphasized the particular importance that energy deals hold in the two country’s relations. “In spite of all obstacles, the volume of trade increased by 30% over the past 11 months,” he stated. “This is a good sign, and large-scale projects are continuing, such as the construction of nuclear power plants.”
Putin went on to say that Russia and Hungary had signed long-term contracts that would allow the EU nation to purchase discounted gas from Russia until 2036. He also reported that Hungary currently buys gas five times cheaper than the European market rate. “This is primarily the result of your work,” he told his counterpart.
Orban replied that many in Europe are in fear of an upcoming energy crisis, and that Hungary is grateful for the contract.
Western leaders have been saying for months that they fear Russia is planning an imminent invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow has repeatedly denied, and Orban was criticized by some opposition figures in Hungary for his willingness to meet with Putin and sign a major energy deal during the standoff. In a radio appearance on Friday, he said that his priority was a “balanced economic relationship” with Russia.
Hungary’s foreign minister has previously criticized Ukraine for its policies towards some ethnic groups, who are denied official minority status if they are considered to have a state elsewhere in the world, which includes both Hungarians and Russians. The top diplomat has said that Kiev should amend these laws if it wants to eventually be admitted to NATO, the US-led military bloc, of which Hungary is a member.
On Tuesday, Orban, who has been in office since 2010 and is up for re-election in April, also told Putin that he foresees many more years of working together. “This is our 13th meeting,” he remarked. “That is a rarity. Nearly everyone who was a colleague of mine in the European leadership no longer is. So, you and I have built up 13 years of meaningful memories of the past of Russia and the EU. And, speaking honestly, I’m not planning to leave. There are elections in April, and I’m planning to run in them and win. So, I have a good hunch that you and I will be working together for many more years.”
Putin replied that Orban had done much to develop Russian-Hungarian relations, and that Moscow was counting on further partnership. “I hope for this mutual work to continue,” he said.