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Putin Meets Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán in First Meeting with EU Leader since Invasion of Ukraine

Putin Meets Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán in First Meeting with EU Leader since Invasion of Ukraine

Tuesday, 17 October 2023 12:00 PM EDT

BEIJING (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks Tuesday with Vladimir Putin, becoming the first leader of a European Union nation to meet in person with the Russian president since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in February 2022.

The two leaders met in Beijing ahead of an international forum on one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature policies, the Belt and Road Initiative. Their meeting, which focused on Hungary’s access to Russian energy, marked the end of nearly 20 months in which Western leaders eschewed contact with Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.

“Hungary never wanted to confront Russia, Hungary always has been eager to expand contacts,” Orbán told Putin, according to a Russian translation of his remarks broadcast on Russian state television.

Bilateral ties between the two countries have suffered because of EU sanctions against Moscow, he said.

Hungary’s stance on the war has confounded its European partners and led to deadlocks in providing financial and military assistance to Kyiv. Orbán has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons and not allowed their transfer across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. He has also threatened to veto EU sanctions against Moscow, though has always ultimately voted in favor of them.

Orbán’s meeting with Putin appeared to be a boon for the Russian president, who could point to it as a sign that unity within the EU on its support for Ukraine — and its condemnation of Russia for starting the war — was faltering.

Putin said that while opportunities for maintaining ties with some countries are “limited in the current geopolitical situation, it causes satisfaction that we have managed to preserve and develop relations with many European countries, including Hungary.”

Budapest has blocked an EU military aid package to Kyiv worth 500 million euros ($526 million) since May, and said it would continue doing so until it receives concessions from Kyiv concerning its listing of a Hungarian bank as an international sponsor of the war.

Orbán, a right-wing populist leader who has repeatedly criticized Western sanctions against Russia, said that his country has remained eager to maintain ties with Moscow, on which Hungary is highly dependent for natural gas, oil and nuclear fuel.

While most of Hungary’s neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe have taken great strides to wean themselves off of Russian energy, Orbán has worked to maintain and even increase supplies of Russian gas and oil, arguing that they are essential for the functioning of Hungary’s economy.

“We are doing what we can and trying to save what we can in our bilateral contacts,” he said, noting the planned expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant by Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom. The project will be financed with a 10-billion euro ($10.5 billion) loan from a Russian state bank.

In a post on his Facebook page, Orbán reiterated his longstanding call for a cease-fire and immediate peace talks in Ukraine, though he has not indicated what such an arrangement would mean for Ukraine’s future security or territorial integrity.

“In Europe today, one question is on everyone’s mind: will there be a cease-fire in Ukraine,” Orbán wrote. “For us Hungarians, too, the most important thing is that the flood of refugees, the sanctions and the fighting in our neighboring country should end.”

Putin, making a rare trip out of Russia, is holding a series of meetings with other leaders who have come to Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum, and will also hold talks with Xi.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Tuesday that he had had a short meeting with Putin, one that is also likely to raise concerns in Europe. Serbia under Vucic has been increasingly drifting away from its proclaimed goal of joining the European Union and is moving closer to Russia and China economically and politically.

Serbia has refused to join EU sanctions against Moscow, although Vucic says Serbia respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Both China and Russia are the main suppliers of weapons for the Serbian army at a time when growing tensions over its former province of Kosovo is one of the main Western security concerns for regional stability.

China has provided Serbia with billions of dollars in loans for factories and highways that Chinese companies are building. A free trade agreement signed with China on Tuesday goes directly against EU economic policies and would have to be scrapped if Serbia were to join the EU.

___

Spike reported from Budapest, Hungary. Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks Tuesday with Vladimir Putin, becoming the first leader of a European Union nation to meet in person with the Russian president since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in February 2022.The two leaders met in Beijing ahead of...
putin orban russia hungary china beijing
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2023-00-17
Tuesday, 17 October 2023 12:00 PM
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