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First reactions to Putin’s visit

February 19th, 2015

Left-wing and liberal columnists accuse PM Orbán of assisting Russian President Putin in his geopolitical tricks. A pro-government pundit contends that Hungary, like Europe, needs to maintain good relations with Russia for pragmatic reasons.

At a press conference after a two-hour talk with the Russian President, Mr Orbán announced that Hungary can purchase the so far unused portion of gas it was entitled to in the 1996 Russian-Hungarian gas transfer framework agreement which expires this year. According to the original agreement, Hungary would have to pay for the total quantity of allocated gas even if part of it was left unused. PM Orbán noted that European energy security presupposes cooperation with Moscow.

Russian President Putin claimed that the agreement on the extension of the Paks nuclear plant will reduce energy prices and create ten thousand jobs. He added that Moscow wants to find an alternative to the cancelled South Stream pipeline project. In a comment on the Ukraine crisis, he expressed hopes that the Minsk agreement will be observed and called on Ukrainian forces to give up Debaltseve and admit defeat. President Putin blamed the Ukraine conflict on the Ukrainian government which, according to him, decided to use arms rather than negotiations to settle disputes.

Népszabadság in a front page editorial accuses PM Orbán of a siding with President Putin in his conflicts with the West. The leading left-wing daily describes as shameful the fact that the Hungarian Prime Minister completely failed to react when Putin laid the blame for the Ukraine crisis solely on the Ukrainian government. The daly also condemns Orbán for what it sees as deserting European energy solidarity in its dealings with Russia.

On 444, Péter Magyari says Putin humiliated his hosts by commemorating Soviet soldiers who took part in the 1956 invasion that suppressed the Hungarian revolution. During his visit, Putin laid a wreath of remembrance at the memorial to Soviet troops killed in World War II and passed by, without actually stopping in front of a memorial to Soviet soldiers who fell during the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising. The commemoration could only be attended by Russian journalists. The liberal pundit believes that the commemoration is a clear indication that Putin still honours Russia’s totalitarian past. Magyari thinks that Putin came to Budapest in a demonstration of force by “parading in a NATO member state”, and used the Hungarian government to assist his stunt.

During his visit to Budapest, Putin wanted to demonstrate in the aftermath of the Minsk agreement that he does not want to isolate Russia from Europe, Gábor Stier writes in Magyar Nemzet. The conservative columnist suggests that PM Orbán wisely used the opportunity to broker a deal on gas transfers that bolsters Hungary’s energy security. He goes on to stress that European energy security cannot be achieved without Russia’s involvement. Cooperation with Russia should not be interpreted in the light of historical grievances or as a betrayal of European solidarity, Stier warns.

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