Orban: West, Russia cooperation in Hungary’s interest

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

Hungary also benefits if relations between western and eastern Europe, NATO, and Russia are good, the prime minister said. Orban noted that Hungary and Russia have been organising high-level summits for reviewing the state of bilateral relations for a number of years now.

On the topic of economic cooperation, 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 wants to strike deals on Russian investments and aims to produce goods it can sell on the Russian market, he said, noting that Hungary has already launched investment projects in Russia’s meat industry as well as animal health and pharmaceutical sectors.

As regards bilateral political cooperation, Orban said Hungary aimed to ensure that every major global power should have an interest in its success, especially those that have a significant impact on it regionally. Hungarian-Russian cooperation fits into this approach, he said, arguing that though Hungary was and would continue to be a member of both NATO and the European Union, those memberships did not exclude the possibility of political cooperation with Russia on certain issues.

Orban highlighted the protection of persecuted Christian communities and the issue of migration as key areas of bilateral cooperation. Concerning migration, Orban said there were 96,000 migrants making their way to northern Europe via the Balkan migration route, which he said was a cause for concern for Hungary, forcing it to protect its borders. He added that Hungary and Russia were also cooperating in their efforts to advance the stabilisation of the Middle East. If the region becomes unstable it will trigger an exodus of migrants towards Europe, Orban said, adding that Hungary was interested in political stability in the Middle East and 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 said the dispute in question was about the discrimination against and mistreatment of Transcarpathian Hungarians by the Ukrainian government. Hungary has proposed that if such a document is adopted, it should at least contain a declaration from Ukraine saying that it is ready to accept the motions put forward by the Venice Commission concerning minority rights. But 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 with Hungary 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 Hungary wanted to enjoy sovereignty not just in terms of its energy supply but also with regard to the transit countries. Therefore, he said, if Hungary could only receive gas from Russia via Ukraine, “it is bad from the point of view of Hungary’s sovereignty.” So the TurkStream pipeline “is a preference, the sooner we can join, the better”, he added.

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.

Russia considers Hungary an important partner in supplying gas to Europe, Putin said. he 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 said.

The two countries are now looking to diversify their relations, the president said, adding, at the same time, that the area of energy was still their top priority. Putin said 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.

Other subjects on the agenda included the Ukraine crisis, Syria, energy supply routes, as well as ways to consolidate Russia-EU relations, Putin said. Parties at the talks also discussed the situation of Christian communities in the Middle East and North Africa, he said, and offered Russia’s contribution to assisting Christians in those regions. He added that persecution based on religious beliefs was unacceptable.

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.

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.

In his response to another question, Putin said 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

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.

Source and photo: MTI

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