Orbán Meets With Putin in China

Ukraine Crisis

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks at the Belt and Road Initiative Summit in Beijing on Oct. 18. While in China, he also had a bilateral meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Image courtesy of the Press Office of the Prime Minister. Photo by Zoltán Fischer / MTI / Prime Minister’s Press Office.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a government guest house in Beijing on Oct. 17, where both leaders attended the Belt and Road Initiative forum. The Hungarian PM thus become the first European Union premier to meet with the Russian leader since an international warrant was issued for his arrest over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

The two sides discussed cooperation between Hungary and Russia in the areas of gas and crude oil deliveries, and nuclear energy, according to an announcement on social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) from government spokesman Zoltán Kovács. In comments via an interpreter broadcast on Russian television before the forum, Orbán told Putin that Hungary has never wanted to oppose Russia and is trying to salvage bilateral ties.

Orbán stressed the importance of peace during his conversation with Putin, according to a video message posted on Facebook after the meeting. Remarking that everyone in Europe is wondering whether there will be a ceasefire in Ukraine, Orbán said, “the answer I received from the president of Russia was not reassuring to say the least.” He added that Hungary must take this into consideration with regard to its policies over the coming months.

“That is why it is important for us Hungarians to be able to maintain Hungarian-Russian cooperation in the field of energy and other economic issues despite the war,” Orbán concluded.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said that Hungary would continue to strive for cooperation based on mutual respect with Russia in a Facebook post on Oct. 13, adding that a secure energy supply could not be guaranteed without maintaining relations with Russia. Szijjártó had met with Alexander Novak, Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of energy, and Denis Manturov, the deputy PM for trade and industry, in Moscow that day, during the annual Russian Energy Week forum, to discuss the two countries’ cooperation in the areas of economy and energy.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 7, another international crisis began to unfold as Hamas, the political and military organization governing the Gaza Strip, unleashed a surprise assault on surrounding portions of Israel, massacring hundreds of civilians. Israel retaliated with air strikes on the Gaza Strip before formally declaring war on Hamas the following day. Hungarian leadership subsequently condemned the attack on Israel by Hamas.

Unequivocally Support

“We strongly condemn the brutal attack against Israel and unequivocally support Israel’s right to self-defense,” President Katalin Novák said in a message on X, declaring that Hungary had affirmed its “unwavering support” for Israel.

“My thoughts and prayers with [Israeli President] Isaac Herzog and the Jewish people in these difficult times,” she added.

Orbán also expressed “sympathy and condolences to Prime Minister Netanyahu,” in a message on X, adding that Hungary’s “thoughts and prayers are with the people of Israel in these dark hours.” After expressing his own condemnation of the “brutal terrorist attack,” in a post on his Facebook page, Szijjártó said Hungarian authorities had no knowledge of any Hungarians who had died or been injured in the fighting.

Within two days, the Hungarian Air Force had conducted a rescue mission coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Defense, Szijjártó said in a post on Facebook. Some 325 people had been evacuated on three flights that included 310 Hungarian nationals and 15 foreigners, including nationals from Israel, as well as Austria, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The Hungarian Air Force subsequently evacuated another 105 people on Oct. 13, with 89 Hungarians and 16 foreign nationals among them.

While vocal with his support for Israel, Orbán told Kossuth Rádió on Oct. 13 that Hungary would not allow any rallies supporting “terrorist organizations.” The PM said he was shocked by “sympathy rallies supporting the terrorists across Europe,” including attempts in Hungary. “But we will not allow sympathy rallies supporting terrorist organizations as that would entail a terror threat to Hungarian citizens.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of October 20, 2023.

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