Orbán to Putin: Our relationship has suffered much as a result of the military operations and the sanctions

October 17. 2023. – 04:47 PM


Orbán to Putin: Our relationship has suffered much as a result of the military operations and the sanctions
Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin their bilateral meeting at the Beijing Forum – Photo by Grigory Sysoyev / POOL / AFP


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Viktor Orbán was the only European politician to attend the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, where he also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was the Russian President's first trip abroad since the International Criminal Court in The Hague had issued an international arrest warrant against him for the forcible deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia during the war against Ukraine. It was also his first meeting with the leader of an EU member state since the war began.

Speaking first during the public part of the meeting, Putin stressed that his country's relationship with Hungary is constantly being built with mutual interests in mind, and that he is pleased to have another meeting, as "the possibilities for maintaining and developing relations are limited in today’s complicated geopolitical situation", but relations with many European countries, including Hungary, are still good, Ria Novosti reported.

Meeting with a member of the EU is important for Putin

Putin pointed out that trade between the two countries still grew by 80 percent in 2022 – he did not elaborate on the components of this growth, although the increase in energy prices could have played a significant role – but added that the first seven months of this year have seen a 35 percent drop. “This does not override the 80 percent, but it is worth considering what can be done to turn the trend in a positive direction.”

Putin indicated that Hungary is also important because it is a member of the EU, which allows them to discuss European and global relations in addition to bilateral relations.

"Our points of view are far from always being the same, but I am convinced that the exchange of views is always extremely important," Putin said, referring not to Hungary but to Russia's relations with the EU.

Orbán indicated that it's not his fault, but going forward will be difficult

Viktor Orbán began by saying that this was the thirteenth time since 2009 that he had met with Vladimir Putin. The Russian interpreter's voice made the Hungarian Prime Minister's voice hard to hear in the Ria Novosti broadcast. "There have been difficult meetings, but never as difficult as this one. We have never been in such a difficult situation. Hungary has never wanted to oppose Russia, on the contrary, Hungary's goal has always been to establish the best possible relationship," Orbán said in the words of the interpreter, as broadcast by Ria Novosti.

"Our relationship has suffered much as a result of the military operations and the sanctions," Orbán said, audibly avoiding the word 'war' in Hungarian. This was an understandable diplomatic consideration ahead of the talks, given that in Russia the law forbids calling the war against Ukraine a war.

By using this term, Orbán opted for tactical diplomacy. Indeed, in Russia, the official name for the war against Ukraine is 'special military operation', a term Orbán avoided, while at the same time also identifying Putin as the one responsible for making the development of relations more difficult.

His words were also chosen extremely carefully when he spoke about the prospects for the relationship, while at the same time stressing his government's determination to preserve it. "Mr President, you know what Hungary is like, what potential it has. We will do what we can today. We will salvage all we can from our bilateral relations. It is in our interest to maintain cooperation not only on the level of exchanging ideas, but also on the economic level, for as long as we can," he said, indicating the pitfalls and the limits of Hungary's room for manoeuvre, and then unexpectedly thanked Putin for some basic things:

“I would like to thank you for Rosatom being our great partner, I would like to thank Gazprom for respecting the terms of the contract. After all, we have managed to preserve a lot (from the relationship).”

Then, once again, he brought up the constraints, which he stressed had risen due to circumstances outside of Hungary’s purview:

"Nobody likes to see their achievements disintegrate for reasons that are beyond their control," Orbán concluded, hoping that the building of relations could still continue in this way in the future.

Putin hardly goes outside former Soviet territories

The Russian president attaches particular importance to these meetings, given his very limited travel abroad since the start of the war against Ukraine. With Western sanctions and political isolation, a meeting with the leader of an EU country is of particular importance, which can be used to demonstrate that the EU is not united in its view of Russia despite the sanctions.

Since 24 February 2022, Putin has only visited the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, Armenia and Belarus, and went to Iran once – to buy drones for the war against Ukraine – and is now in Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum.

We have contacted Bertalan Havasi, Head of the Prime Minister's Press Office about Orbán's statement and will update this article if he responds.

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