Szijjártó upbeat after talks with counterpart in Moscow

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"Following many years of decline, Hungarian-Russian relations will be characterized by success stories," Hungaryʼs Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said on Wednesday following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, official Hungarian government website kormany.hu reported.

Russiaʼs Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (left) and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó pictured at an earlier meeting in 2016 (photo: MTI/Tamás Kovács).

Szijjártó said the parties had agreed on Hungary purchasing more than 4 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia following 2020. In addition, a direct air passenger route will be launched between Budapest and Kazan, and an agreement was also concluded with respect to a Hungarian-Russian consortium shipping 1,300 railway cars to Egypt at a value of EUR 1 billion.

Szijjártó also told reporters that a jointly financed Central European Oncology Center will be established in Budapest, where the currently Moscow-based International Investment Bank (IIB) will also be transferring its headquarters. (In June, it was reported that the IIB would open a European front office in the Hungarian capital.) The minister added that he is basing these announcements on recent negotiations held with three of his Russian counterparts.

Apart from Lavrov, over the course of two days Szijjártó also met with Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak and Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov. The Hungarian minister also participated in panel discussions at the Russian Energy Week  conference in Moscow.

In reply to a question from Hungarian news agency MTI, Szijjártó said that during Russian Energy Week, leaders of Western Europe’s largest energy companies, Total, Enel and Shell, who will be working together with Russian gas giant Gazprom on the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, also shared the podium alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"So, there will be a major step forward in Western Europe’s energy security, and we would like there to also be a great step forward with relation to Central Europe’s energy security,"Szijjártó noted. "Just as the people of Western Europe will be able to purchase gas in the north via a new transport route, we in Central Europe also demand this right for ourselves," he added.

The minister took a shot at the European Union, saying: "We demand that the Western Europeans and Brussels do not make it impossible for us to acquire new transport routes from the south (…) and do not boycott Balkan and Central European gas purchasing via the second Turkish Stream pipeline."

Paks upgrade a ’competitiveness issue’ - Szijjártó

Earlier at Russian Energy Week, Szijjártó was cited as saying by MTI at a panel discussion that the upgrade of Hungaryʼs Paks Nuclear Power Plant is not just the "flagship" of cooperation between Hungary and Russia, but can help "re-establish a pragmatic cooperation between East and West."

Russiaʼs Rosatom is the general contractor for the EUR 12.5 bln upgrade, with companies from Western Europe and the United States as sub-contractors. The contract for the project, which is being financed with a EUR 10 bln loan from Russia, stipulates a 40% localization rate, the minister noted.

Szijjártó recalled that the European Commissionʼs clearance for the upgrade had been delayed by what he described as a debate "full of hypocrisy and double standards." Anti-nuclear endeavors are a matter of "political correctness," he claimed.

The minister asserted that nuclear energy is the cheapest, safest and cleanest way to generate electricity, adding that determining a countryʼs energy mix is a "core national competence" that "must be respected." Hungary sees the Paks upgrade not as a construction issue or an energy issue, but as a "holistic, comprehensive economic development plan" and a "competitiveness issue," he noted.

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