Hungary promotes bonds with Russia as Putin blames Kiev

Budapest criticises sanctions on Moscow despite escalation in Ukraine war

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban in Budapest on Thursday. Photograph: Zsolt Szigetvary/EPA

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban in Budapest on Thursday. Photograph: Zsolt Szigetvary/EPA

 

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has urged the European Union to repair relations with the Kremlin, even as visiting Russian president Vladimir Putin refused to take any blame for a deadly escalation in the war in Ukraine.

Mr Orban said “long and successful talks” with Mr Putin had focused on economic projects, particularly plans for Russian energy firms to expand a Hungarian nuclear power plant and provide gas on a long-term basis to the country.

Complaining that “anti-Russian policies have become fashionable in western Europe”, Mr Orban said EU sanctions imposed on Russia over Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine had cost Hungary some €6 billion in lost trade.

“Hungary continues to assert that we should not try to solve political problems by economic means, or transfer conflicts into the economic sphere, because everyone loses that way,” he said alongside Mr Putin.

“We hope that in the near future we will welcome new, good relations between Russia and the EU – it would be very hard to live without open, fruitful and intensive forms of co-operation,” he added.

With a nod to new US president Donald Trump – who has spoken in favour of closer western ties with Moscow, Mr Orban said: “The world is changing, helping to improve conditions for co-operation between Russia and Europe. ”

Mr Orban said he hoped for final EU clearance for Russian state atomic agency Rosatom to expand Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant, in a €12 billion deal that Budapest awarded without a public tender and classified as secret for 30 years.

Street protests

Mr Putin was most expansive on the subject of Ukraine, where nearly three years ago huge street protests swept pro-western leaders to power, prompting Russia to annex Crimea and foment a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

At least 10 people have been killed and dozens injured in eastern Ukraine since last weekend, in the latest escalation in a conflict between government forces and Russian-backed militants that has claimed about 10,000 lives and displaced well over one million people.

Mr Putin said Ukrainian “volunteer units” had provoked the bloodshed by attacking separatist positions last Friday – a claim Kiev flatly denies. “The Ukrainian leadership needs money, and it is easiest to squeeze money out of the EU, individual European states and the US . . . by presenting oneself as a victim of aggression,” he said.

He also noted Ukraine’s leaders had favoured Hillary Clinton over Mr Trump in the US election, and claimed Kiev was now trying to “establish relations with the current administration, and through conflict . . . it is easier to involve the [US] administration in solving Ukraine’s problems.”

Mr Putin also accused Ukraine’s leaders of using the violence in the east to divert attention from the failure of their policies and their unwillingness to implement a peace plan agreed in 2015 in Minsk, Belarus.

Kiev blames Russia and the militants for the violence in eastern Ukraine, and European Council president Donald Tusk called on Moscow on Thursday to “use its influence to disengage the Russian-backed separatists”.