US ambassador to Hungary condemns Orban-Putin meeting in Beijing

US ambassador to Hungary condemns Orban-Putin meeting in Beijing
Viktor Orban (left) and Vladimir Putin (right) discussed Hungarian-Russian cooperation in the areas of oil and gas deliveries as well as nuclear energy. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest October 18, 2023

Alone among our allies, Hungary’s leader chooses to plead for business deals with a man whose forces are responsible for crimes against humanity in Ukraine, David Pressman, US ambassador to Hungary, tweeted on social media after Hungarian premier Viktor Orban held bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on October 17.

The two leaders discussed Hungarian-Russian cooperation in the areas of oil and gas deliveries as well as nuclear energy on the sidelines of the two-day international forum marking the 10th anniversary of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Orban is the only EU leader at the summit.

He confirmed that Budapest intends to continue cooperation with Russia in the energy sphere, called Rosatom a reliable partner and thanked Gazprom for fulfilling long-term contracts.

Hungary continues to receive Russian oil through the Druzhba pipeline, and gas through the TurkStream and its branches through Bulgaria and Serbia.

Under a 2014 contract awarded without a tender, Russia's Rosatom is expanding the Paks nuclear power plant, which also uses Russian nuclear fuel, The €12.5bn project has suffered years of delay as Rosatom failed to obtain the necessary licences for failing to meet strict EU safety criteria.

Hungary intends to maintain cooperation with Russia in any and all areas that can be salvaged from the EU’s sanctions, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Economic Relations Peter Szijjarto said after the meeting

Putin and Orban last spoke face-to-face on February 1, 2022, in a meeting lasting several hours in Moscow, three weeks before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Orban in a video message recalled that he had met the Russian president 13 times since 2009, but never in such "complex circumstances". The reason for this is none other than the "military operation", and the Western sanctions that go with it, he added. 

The Hungarian PM, seen by many as Russia’s puppet in the EU, has used Putin’s terminology of military operation instead of calling the aggression a war, independent media observed.

Orban raised the issue of a ceasefire at the talks. "For us Hungarians and for the whole of Europe, the most important thing would be an end to the influx of refugees, sanctions and fighting in our neighbourhood. The answer I received from the president of Russia was not reassuring at least," the Hungarian premier said in a video posted on his X.

Putin said in an interview with the China Media Group earlier that Russia is ready to negotiate and settle the conflict in Ukraine by peaceful means, but Kyiv must show a willingness to negotiate, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

At the BRI summit Orban also held a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

According to state news agency MTI, Hungary's  leader said that Chinese-Hungarian ties under Xi's presidency have "reached unprecedented heights", and that has been "extraordinarily advantageous and useful."

He stressed that Hungary  from the very start had backed China’s infrastructural development initiative, which will change the global economy and serve the welfare of people. Budapest will remain a participant in the initiative and seek cooperation with Beijing, "regardless of European political debates, he added.

Hungary opposes decoupling, severing supply chains, and the so-called "de-risking," said the prime minister. Orban noted that Hungary will continue to actively promote cooperation between Central and Eastern European countries with China, and promote the sound and steady growth of Europe-China relations