Putin heads to Hungary to widen cracks in EU

Orbán and Putin shake hands during a 2014 meeting in Moscow. [The Kremlin]

Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest today (2 February), as the Kremlin looks to widen cracks in the EU over sanctions.

The meeting with the rightwing Orbán – who has called for lifting the European Union’s punitive measures against Russia – is Putin’s first visit to Europe since the election of Donald Trump rocked the continent.

Putin to visit Hungary on 2 February

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Budapest on February 2 for talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian government said yesterday (19 January).

The Kremlin is hoping Trump’s rise to power will begin to see pressure on it ease after relations with the West slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War over Russia’s meddling in Ukraine.

The populist Orbán – one of the few leaders to publicly support Trump – enjoys close ties with Putin, but has yet to break ranks with the EU and formally oppose sanctions that have battered the Russian economy since their introduction in 2014.

Orbán says EU’s Energy Union is a threat to Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said his country has a “major problem” with Brussels because of the European Commission’s plans to set up an Energy Union, which in his words hinders national sovereignty.

But analysts say Trump’s ascendancy and the wave of populism sweeping across Europe could embolden the two strongmen leaders to push even further now.

“Hungary has already criticised the sanctions against Moscow but has never officially voted against them,” said Andras Deak of the Institute of World Economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

“That could change: Orbán will take a step closer to Putin in terms of rhetoric due to the change in the international context.”

Russia counts on EU ‘friends’ to avert further sanctions

Russia has stepped up its efforts to consolidate ties with governments and forces in EU countries sympathetic to Moscow, for historic or economic reasons, or both. The EURACTIV network reports.

EU sanctions – targeting key sectors of the Russian economy – were extended in December until the end of July this year, despite some nations increasingly questioning their impact.

For Brussels, maintaining unity on Russia sanctions may now be forced to take a backseat as fears mount that Trump’s policies pose a major threat to the EU and pro-Moscow nationalist parties gear up for elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany.

Hungary's Orbán wants warmer EU-Russia ties to boost business

Victor Orbán, who stated that Europe has “shot itself in foot” by imposing sanctions on Russia, told diplomats on Monday (25 August) that he would seek support from other EU countries to improve relations with Moscow.

‘Personal ties’

The Kremlin has said that the visit “bears witness to the personal ties and confidence” between Orbán and Putin.

The pair has met at least once in each of the past six years and Orbán was the first European leader to welcome Putin after his annexation of the Black Sea Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

The Russian leader now wishes to make a show of his “support for a country that has been pushing for better ties with the lifting of sanctions,” Moscow-based political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said.

Ahead of the visit, Putin’s top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said talks would focus on “developing economic ties” between the two countries that have been hit by the Ukraine measures.

Putin and Orbán will discuss Russia’s planned expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant and other energy issues, with Budapest highly dependent on Russian gas imports.

Putin and Orbán contemplate stronger energy ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to continue supplying gas to Hungary on Tuesday (17 February) during a visit to Budapest, cementing the EU member state’s growing ties to the Kremlin, as the rest of Europe distances itself from Moscow over its Ukraine policy.

Construction of the two 1,200 megawatt reactors at the Paks plant outside Budapest is considered a strategic project by Orbán but is viewed sceptically by the opposition and the European Commission.

Commission notes cast doubt over approval of Russian-backed nuclear project

EXCLUSIVE/ The European Commission was prepared to spoon-feed arguments to Hungary to close an investigation into the controversial €12 billion Paks II nuclear plant project, according to documents obtained by EURACTIV.com

Brussels said in 2015 it was opening an in-depth probe to determine whether the construction of the reactors was economically justified and to ensure there was no illegal state aid.

The Kremlin ‘full of enthusiasm’ to interfere in EU elections

Full of enthusiasm for Brexit and Trump's election, the Kremlin will actively interfere with this year’s elections in Europe, first and foremost in France and Germany, but also in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, an opponent to Russian President Vladimir Putin told EURACTIV.com yesterday (17 January).

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