The Russian leader will make a rare visit to the European Union (EU)
The Russian leader will make a rare visit to the European Union (EU) on Thursday, touching down in Budapest, the first country he visited after annexing Crimea in 2014.
Eurosceptic prime minister Orbán has previously blasted the EU as ‘weak’ and said it citizens are “enslaved by a utopia, and this utopia is called 'supra-national Europe.”
It is widely thought Putin is hoping to capitalise on the European leader’s distaste for Brussels, using Mr Orbán to try and end to sanctions on Moscow.
András Deák, senior research fellow at Institute of World Economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said: “There is a Russian hope that Orbán will step up against the sanctions, not just rhetorically.
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“For the Russians, it is important to find a European country that will be the first mover on this.”
Championed by Germany, the sanctions are unanimously approved, despite some reservations from countries like Cyprus, Greece and Italy, but none are willing to stick their head above the parapet and wield a veto.
That could change with the incoming US administration, led by Donald Trump, who has signalled a change in direction between US-Russian relations.
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It is widely thought Putin is hoping to capitalise on the European leader’s distaste for Brussels
And without the US applying pressure to keep up the sanctions, Vladimir Putin could have spotted an opportunity to engineer lifting them.
Hungarian MP, Gergely Gulyás, said: “Sanctions have been resulting in serious disadvantages not only for Russia but also for Hungary together with the whole European economy.”
And Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó added: “We have repeatedly expressed our opposition, but did not impose a veto and did not want to shatter the unity of the EU.
“Values should not be traded for business and economic interests in these relationships.”
And Hungary has been repeatedly reminded of its NATO obligations, which is itself facing an uncertain future after the new US president branded the partnership as “obsolete”.
Mr Orbán agrees with his American counterpart, claiming that the world is entering a “new paradigm” of “multiple centers of power.”
Putin could have spotted an opportunity to engineer lifting them
[It's] unreasonale. . . to ignore the power and the opportunity that Russia represents
“We were not alone, there were several other countries.
“But when the day to make a decision came, we found ourselves all alone.”
The pair have grown close since Mr Orbán was elected in 2010, and the crux of their cosy relationship centres around the Paks II nuclear power plant project that Hungary contracted.
But the plans have drawn criticism from those in the European Union who argue for energy independence from Russia.
And most vocal to the cosy relationship between Russia and Hungary is Ukraine, who lives in the shadow of Moscow and increasingly fears another Crimea-esque intervention, repeatedly calling on NATO to shore up its eastern defences.
Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, said: “We hope that bilateral dialogue between Hungary and Russia will not blind leaders of our neighbouring friendly state Hungary from making sure that the aggressor against Ukraine is being kept responsible for its actions.
Trump has signalled a change in direction between US-Russian relations
He said it is “unreasonable — and particularly unreasonable in Europe — to ignore the power and the opportunity that Russia represents.
“The era of multilateralism is at an end, and the era of bilateral relations is upon us.”