A Hungarian government spokesman officially confirmed on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Budapest in March.
Népszava Online had reported on Tuesday that it had learned from various sources of the scheduled visit, and noted that Putin’s trip would come on the heels of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Hungary in February.
This will be Putin’s second official visit to Budapest. So far Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has paid three official visits to the Kremlin, in November 2010, February 2013 and January 2014. During the last visit the two leaders signed a framework agreement in which Hungary awarded the construction of two nuclear reactors at the Paks nuclear power plant to the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (RUSATOM), and Russia agreed to lend Hungary up to EUR 10 billion to finance up to 80% of the total investment.
Bertalan Havasi, personal spokesman to Orbán, confirmed the Putin visit without specifying when or what topics would be covered. Havasi told the Hungarian State News Agency (MTI) on Wednesday that “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán paid a working visit to Moscow last year, consequently Vladimir Putin has been invited to attend the next such event in Budapest. Discussions about the exact date are still ongoing.”
In the absence of information, speculation has arisen as to the purpose of the Russian president’s visit. Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a Russian studies expert, told independent Klubrádió that since the present EU economic sanctions against Russia are due to expire in March, it is not a coincidence that Putin intends to visit then. Convincing Orbán to lift the EU sanctions would be a “large gain” to Putin. However, Sz. Bíró emphasized that Hungary can “only lose” on such a transaction, as the assistance offered Putin would anger NATO and Hungary’s Western allies.
Earlier Russian state strategic analyst Yuri Solozubov proposed on Russian public TV that the Russian Federation should “use Hungary to break up solidarity within the EU” on the sanctions.
Márton Gyöngyösi, foreign affairs parliamentary committee vice-chair, issued a statement according to which far-right party Jobbik welcomes Putin’s visit and closer relations with Russia as “a counterbalance of Hungary’s unilateral engagement to the Western powers.”
Opposition parties, as well as organizers and activists of recent anti-government protests, reacted angrily to the prospect of an official Putin visit. Politics Can Be Different (LMP) co-chair Bernadett Szél called on Orbán to use the occasion to terminate the Paks II contracts with Russia, as has Together 2014, which also demanded the government involve the parliamentary opposition in preparations for Putin’s visit. Former MSZP chairman László Kovács, who is also a former minister of foreign affairs as well as a former EU commissioner, reminded the public that during Putin’s first visit to Hungary in March 2006, Fidesz branded then-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány a “Hungarian traitor” for receiving him. “Now they do the same and a lot more,” Kovács’s statement read, adding that Russian pressure on Hungary right now is so strong that “Orbán probably has no choice but to receive Putin.”
A Facebook activist group, “A hundred thousand against the internet-tax”, plans to protest Putin’s visit on February 9. Invitations to the event entitled “We will not be Putin’s colony” specify the venue as Kossuth square and call on everyone to demonstrate against “Hungary’s exposure to Vladimir Putin.”
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