Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met Vladimir Putin at the ‘One Belt, One Road’ forum in Beijing on October 18, becoming the first EU leader to do so since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president. Despite the current geopolitical challenges, Putin stressed that relations between Russia and several European countries, including Hungary, are being maintained and developed, thanks to mutual consideration of interests. In his view, the two countries have preserved their trade and economic relations over the decades.
Viktor Orban rejected sanctions at the start of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, claiming that they would have a negative impact on Hungary. He also banned arms shipments across the country and called for peace. In 2023, at a summit, he proposed a thorough evaluation of Ukraine’s admission to the EU and announced that the Hungarian Parliament was not keen to vote in favor of this admission in the next two years.
The meeting between Orban and Putin prompted an emergency meeting of representatives from NATO member countries in Budapest on October 19. Representatives discussed the implications of Orban’s energy deals with Russia, attempts to limit aid to Ukraine, delays in NATO expansion and calls for the EU to lift sanctions against Moscow. The US ambassador expressed concern about Hungary’s deepening relations with Russia, despite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and said NATO allies were worried about the security implications. The Swedish and Turkish ambassadors also took part in the meeting.
Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister, expressed her disapproval of Viktor Orban’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, saying it was ‘unpleasant to see’ an EU leader shake hands with the Russian president. In response, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó accused Kallas of hypocrisy, pointing out that her husband’s company had supplied raw materials worth 30 million euros to a Russian factory after the start of the conflict in Ukraine.
Following the Putin-Orban meeting, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller announced that Hungary would receive an additional 1.3 billion cubic meters of gas this year, with a permanent agreement for further volumes over the coming winter months. Despite the EU’s disapproval of Putin’s meeting with Orban, Hungary’s role as a key distributor of Russian gas is crucial to Europe’s energy security.