Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their talks on the sidelines of the third summit of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, 17 October 2023. EPA-EFE/ZOLTAN FISCHER / HUNGARIAN PM'S PRESS OFFICE)


Orbán meets Putin in Beijing, highlighting mutual ‘good relations’


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has become the first European Union leader to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin since an international arrest warrant was issued against Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Putin and Orbán are participating in the summit on the Chinese infrastructure project New Silk Road at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on October 17-18.

Orbán stressed the importance of peace in his bilateral talks with Putin. “It is of particular significance for the entire continent, including Hungary, that the refugee flows, the sanctions against Russia, and the conflicts in Ukraine come to an end,” the Hungarian Prime Minister said.

According to Orbán’s press secretary Bertalan Havasi, the two leaders also discussed gas and oil shipments as well as nuclear-energy challenges.

Under Orbán, European Union and NATO member Hungary has kept up a positive relationship with Russia.

Russian media reported Putin as saying: “Despite the fact that, in the current geopolitical conditions, the possibilities for keeping contact and developing relations are very limited, it cannot but cause satisfaction that our ties with many European countries are maintained and developed, one of those countries is Hungary.”

The New Silk Road summit is being attended by 4,000 delegates from more than 140 countries and over 30 international organisations. The international arrest warrant for Putin was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) but China has never joined the Rome Statute that enshrines the ICC and can therefore ignore the warrant.

Orbán said Hungary had supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative from the start.

“We are convinced that this is an initiative that will change the world, change the world economy and transform it into one that serves the well-being of more people than before.”

He stated that China could count on Hungary to remain a part of the programme in the future, regardless of political debates in Europe, and would to seek co-operation with Beijing.

Despite EU restrictions on Russian oil, Budapest has increased its energy dependence on Moscow. Hungary is also is baulking at Sweden’s ascension into NATO and is in dispute with Ukraine over grain exports. In addition, it has prevented arms from entering Ukraine through its borders.

The Beijing meeting is bound to irk Europe and the US as it is their explicit goal to isolate Putin from the international community.

Hungary has had strained ties with Brussels for some time, especially after it resisted the arrival of migrants into the country. Since then, the EU has been withholding billions in funding over rule-of-law and corruption concerns.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a worldwide infrastructure development programme to invest in more than 150 countries and international organisations.

It is the focal point of China’s President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy and aims to enable the Communist country to take on a greater role in global affairs in accordance with what it sees as its expanding power and position.