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Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow

February 19th, 2016

Commenting on PM Orbán’s meeting with Russian President Putin, left-wing analysts suspect that Putin wants to use Hungarian support to lift EU sanctions. Pro-government columnists, on the other hand, think that PM Orbán pursued pragmatic Hungarian interests in Moscow.

At a joint press conference after their meeting in Moscow on Wednesday, both President Putin and Mr Orbán said that Russian-Hungarian relations are in great shape. They both agreed that the current gas transfer agreement is to be extended until 2019. President Putin underlined that Russia would build the contracted new blocks at the Paks nuclear plant (see BudaPost through 2013) and praised the Hungarian government’s policies concerning immigration. PM Orbán said that Hungarian industrial output is dependent on imported Russian energy. He added that the EU sanctions against Russia should be reconsidered in order to boost economic output in Europe. (The sanctions come up for renewal in July this year).

President Putin wanted to demonstrate before Thursdays’ EU summit that he has allies in the Union, Csaba Poór writes in Népszabadság. The left-wing columnist thinks that Mr Putin wants to use Hungary to help lift the EU sanctions against his country. In addition to the pragmatic interests Hungary and Russia have in common, Poór accuses Mr Orbán of sharing ideological similarities with the Russian President and experimenting with a highly centralized, illiberal democratic model.

In Népszava, Róbert Friss also thinks that President Putin wants to secure Hungary’s support in its struggle against EU sanctions. Friss acknowledges that the sanctions are harming both EU and Hungarian economic interests, but he still finds it problematic that PM Orbán puts national interests first and ignores Russia’s involvement in Eastern Ukraine.

Magyar Hírlap’s Gyula T. Máté praises PM Orbán for what he calls a courageous decision to visit Moscow a day ahead of the EU summit. The conservative pundit admits that President Putin had pragmatic economic and geopolitical reasons to invite PM Orbán, but cooperation also serves Hungary’s interests. Hungary is dependent on Russian energy, and Hungarian agricultural exports need Russian markets. In addition, without Russia’s involvement, the Syrian crisis and the flow of migrants from the Middle East cannot be resolved, Máté adds. Thus, he contends that PM Orbán pursued Hungarian national interests in Moscow.

PM Orbán’s visit was motivated by pure economic pragmatism while his allegiance to the EU cannot be questioned, Levente Sitkei comments in Magyar Idők. The pro-government columnist suggests that Russia has become a “capitalist Empire” that needs Hungary to reach the EU markets, and Hungary’s economy also needs Russia. Sitkei dismisses fears that Russia is a threat to Europe, recalling that Germany also maintains pragmatic relations with Moscow.


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