Interview: Hungary set on closer ties with Russia, U.S. – foreign minister

Written by | January 27, 2017 | 0

BUDAPEST:  Hungary favours closer ties with Russia and also expects links with the United States to improve markedly under President Donald Trump, whose criticism of NATO’s strategy on terrorism it endorses, its foreign minister said on Friday.

In an interview with Reuters days before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Budapest to discuss closer energy ties, Peter Szijjarto also said the European Union’s sanctions regime against Moscow was ineffective and should be scrapped.

“Hungary’s position on the sanctions is that (they are) useless,” Szijjarto said, estimating Hungary had lost export opportunities worth $6.5 billion since they were introduced in place in 2014.

“Should we be happy with Russia’s economy declining? No, we regret that,” he said, adding that Budapest did not view Moscow as a threat.

Hungary, a member of NATO and the EU, has remained on good terms with Russia under the sanctions regime, imposed following its annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its subsequent involvement in the separatist conflict in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has in the past criticised the sanctions, and his overall relations with EU authorities have been less smooth, with Budapest notably defying Brussels over the latter’s attempt to introduce a quota system for hosting refugees.

Speaking in English, Szijjarto said the sanctions had also damaged the wider European economy and failed politically as they had not persuaded Russia to honour the four-power Minsk agreement to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

His preference would be for “really high level” talks to find new footing for relations with Russia.

“I don’t see Russia as a threat on Hungary. I understand and respect that our Polish friends, Baltic friends have another position on that… Russia would not attack any NATO member state. I don’t think it would be in Russia’s interest.”

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