Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó was in Russia last week laying the groundwork for the annual meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán scheduled to take place in Budapest on Thursday. Szijjártó also used the trip as an opportunity to strengthen Hungary’s ties with Russia by praising Russia’s state-controlled media, specifically RT, and by planning for “cooperation in the military-technical sphere” between the two countries.
In an interview with Kommersant.ru, Szijjártó asserted that EU sanctions against Russia have largely depended on the United States’ Russia policies. According to Szijjártó, Hungary has been critical of these sanctions, and the election of Donald Trump to the White House may signal a change in the sanctions imposed against Russia by the US and EU.
“The Hungarian position is very clear,” Szijjártó said. “Sanctions are ineffective and harmful, for both the Russian economy and for Europe. And when you talk with the American and German businessmen, you see that they share these views.”
Szijjártó praised Trump for his stance on immigration and putting an end to “exporting democracy.” He also expressed his hope that the US and EU would seek more pragmatic relations with Russia.
Regarding the upcoming Putin-Orbán powwow, Szijjártó said the two leaders will focus on expanding economic cooperation. He said the Hungarian government hopes to get a green light from the European Commission on the expansion of the Paks II nuclear plant (by Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom).
According to a statement released on the website of Russia’s Ministry of Industry, Szijjártó also met with Russian officials in connection with other projects, including further potential collaboration in “transportation engineering, the pharmaceutical industry, civil aviation, as well as cooperation in the military-technical sphere.”
Despite the Hungarian government’s excitement over the election of Trump to the White House, the US President has made no secret of his desire to see NATO allies meet their commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. Currently, Hungary’s defense spending comes out to less than half of that, roughly 0.95 percent.
Hungary’s Minister of Defence István Simicskó has said that Hungary plans to increase annual defense spending by 0.1 percent each year, which, would bring defense spending up to 2 percent of GDP by 2026.
Simicskó told Reuters in January that Hungary would embark on a defense development program to include the procurement of military helicopters and the current refurbishing of Hungary’s Russian Mi-17 helicopters in Russia.