Co-operation between the European Union and Russia must be rebuilt on pragmatic foundations, based on mutual respect and international law, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said after meeting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Budapest.
Without rebuilt relations on such terms an improvement in European competitiveness is barely conceivable, Szijjártó told a press conference. Russian natural resources coupled with Europe’s highly-developed technologies are needed to strengthen the European economy, he said.
Hungary and Russia both have an interest in slowing down and eventually stopping the decline in their bilateral trade, before putting their economic and trade relations on a growth path, Szijjártó added. Bilateral trade volume had declined by 47 percent last year and by 25 percent so far in 2016, with Hungarian companies losing exports of USD 4.5 billion.
He revealed that a Hungarian meat plant will soon open near Moscow, while other new investments will include a feed factory and a production expansion at drugmaker Richter in Russia.
Szijjártó also announced that a Hungarian company could participate in the construction of a stadium for when Russia hosts the 2018 FIFA World Cup. On the topic of energy security, he emphasised the importance of Russia’s role in Hungary and central Europe’s energy diversity.
The minister noted that earlier this year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to extend long-term Russia-Hungary gas supply contracts to the end of 2019. He said the extension was necessary because Romania and Croatia had failed to do their part in ensuring reverse gas flows between themselves and Hungary.
Regarding the Ukraine conflict, Szijjártó said Hungary wants to see all parties involved keeping to the Minsk ceasefire agreement. He said decisions about the EU sanctions against Russia cannot be “automatic” but should rather be made “at the highest level” involving the leaders of all member states. “No one needs to be worried” about Lavrov’s visit, “least of all our allies”, because Hungary was not concerned either when other European countries held talks with Russia.
Lavrov said Hungary is an important partner for Russia and their co-operation was pragmatic and offered good opportunities. He agreed that a decline in bilateral trade must be stopped. Moscow regards the Paks 2 nuclear upgrade project as a long-term strategic investment, he said.
Asked about EU sanctions, Lavrov told the press conference that Russia planned its economic policies with the embargo in mind. “We can only depend on our own strengths,” he said. He noted that EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini recently tied the restoration of a strategic partnership between Russia and the EU to the implementation of the Minsk Agreement.
Lavrov argued, however, that it is not just Russia but also Ukraine that must adhere to the agreement, meaning that a strategic partnership between the EU and Russia will depend on Kiev. But the restoration of EU-Russia ties is not in Kiev’s interest, he said.
Ruling Fidesz said co-operation with Russia was crucial for growth in Hungary and in Europe, and any talks aimed at strengthening that co-operation was “right and necessary”.
The leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) said that “in a political sense Russia has invaded Hungary”. The party said “the mouth is Orbán’s but the voice is that of Putin”. Hungary had now become “Putin’s sole Trojan Horse in Europe”, serving Russia’s interests rather than those of the country.
The radical nationalist Jobbik party welcomed the bilateral talks and expressed hope that the meeting would help further strengthen Hungarian-Russian relations and boost economic, trade and energy co-operation.
Green opposition LMP criticised the meeting for being a “missed opportunity” for the Hungarian government to withdraw from the Paks upgrade project, which the party said would push Hungary into a “debt trap” for decades to come.
The Liberal Party (MLP) criticised the talks for being “disappointing”, saying that the Hungarian side had failed to clearly declare its commitment to the Western community on the issue of EU sanctions against Russia and concerning the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.