President Putin arrived on a working visit to Hungary on February 17. The importance of this event goes beyond the limits of bilateral relations. It was an outstanding event.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban is an extraordinary personality standing out among European politicians. Many a time he has spoken against the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the European Union. According to him, it was like shooting oneself in the foot. He has guts to oppose US pressure and call Senator McCain an extremist. The Prime Minister says he believes the Russia’s democracy to be a more attractive political model than the liberal democracies of the West. Foreign Affairs called him the Hungarian Putin. Orban is conservative in his views; he sticks to traditional Christian family values. The Hungarian leader has signed a 12 billion-euro ($16 billion) deal with Russia to expand Hungary's Paks nuclear power plant.
Victor Orban is really popular at home – the right partner to make deals with. He is a real, not a theatrical, nationalist and he understands that it is easy to sacrifice the interests of Hungary, a small country, to the interests of leading EU states or European bureaucracy. Orban understands that there are forces that try to impose upon Hungary the role of US-loyal Trojan horse in the European Union taking into consideration the country’s geographic position. He believes such a role is hardly appropriate. In the days of the USSR Orban did not like the fact that the Soviet troops were deployed on the territory of his country. The Prime Minister started his political career from protests against their presence.
Victor Orban is a very pragmatic person and sound pragmatism is a good alternative to Europe’s role of vassal of the USA. In recent years a real madness has been reigning in Europe incited by the United States. Pragmatic thinking makes Hungary (as well as the entire Europe) see the advantages of expanding trade and economic cooperation with Russia. The question pops up – why should Europe shy away from doing what serves its interests and pay for the geopolitical ambitions of Washington and its Ukrainian clients instead?
Orban understands well the problems faced by Russia at present and the importance of the role his country plays as a Russian partner. Gas supplies to Hungary topped the visit’s agenda. Russia accounts for 75% of the gas consumed by Hungary. Orban did not want the new gas contract to be based on the “take or pay” principle because under such terms Hungary would have to pay even for the gas it has not consumed. Russia took the partner’s interests into consideration. Besides it was agreed to expand the underground gas storage infrastructure to be used by Gasprom.
Rosatom is building two units of Paks nuclear power plant. It signed an agreement on personnel training for work at the facility.
An agreement was concluded on Hungary’s opening a consulate-general in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. It was also agreed to expand interregional cooperation, healthcare and education. Vladimir Putin told Orban about the implementation of Minsk accords. The parties agreed on the ways of peaceful settlement in Ukraine.
The visit coincided with the 70 year anniversary of liberating Budapest from German fascists. 200 thousand Russian servicemen lost lives to free the Hungarian capital. Vladimir Putin laid a wreath at the Unknown Soldier's Tomb by the Millennium Monument. He then took part in the ceremony of reopening a Soviet war memorial at Budapest’s central cemetery. The monument has undergone large-scale restoration. There are never-ending attempts to re-write the WWII history in Europe and diminish the role of the USSR in liberating the continent from fascists. The Hungarian government keeps in order the graves and memorials devoted to Soviet soldiers. The commemoration of historic dates is a good example for everyone who honors the past.
What are the prospects for Russia-Hungary relations? To what extent could the progress in the bilateral relationship weaken the burden of sanctions and further the reduction of tensions in Europe in general? The assessments require sound approaches. Hungary opposes the anti-Russian sanctions but voted for their introduction at the EU summit. The EU and NATO membership is a serious limitation of sovereignty, especially in the case of small country. Even such a resolute man as Orban cannot all of a sudden break the pattern of relations shaped during many years. As a pragmatic, would he try to break anything at all? He can rebuff Senator McCain but at the same time he says Hungary remains to be a staunch US ally. He refuses to admit the fact of harboring sympathy towards Russia.
Hungary can clearly see the advantage of developing bilateral relations; it can actively campaign for lifting the EU anti-Russia sanctions and return to normal cooperation between the European Union and Russia. Hungary is not alone. There are enough dissenters in Europe: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Cyprus and Austria. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has expressed discontent with regard to the anti-Russia sanctions. Inside the countries that initiate or support the sanctions there are business circles that feel no admiration for the idea.
The Putin’s visit proved the necessity to further shatter the Western unity in attempts to destroy the ties between Europe and Russia.