“After a summer like this there can be no question that Budapest is one of the world’s sports capitals”, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó told reporters, referring to the Judo World Championships and the World Aquatic Championships, following a meeting between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is on a visit to Budapest to attend the Judo World Championships.
“There can also be no question that a country’s Prime Minister should receive world and sports leaders who visit Budapest to attend major international sports events. This is the case with Vladimir Putin, it will be the case on Tuesday with the Mongolian Prime Minister, and with the presidents of the International Judo Federation (IJF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)”, he added. He indicated that Vladimir Putin had invited the Hungarian Prime Minister to attend next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, an invitation that Mr. Orbán had accepted.
With regard to the meeting, Mr. Szijjártó told the press that no new decisions were made; the parties reviewed the implementation of previous agreements. In their view, “the fruits of the previously made joint decisions are starting to ripen”, their positive results and effects are beginning to be noticed.
Following several years of recession cause by the EU sanctions and other global economy effects, trade flow between the two countries began to increase significantly again this year, by 34 percent year-on-year by the end of May, he highlighted. As part of this growth, Hungarian exports also increased by 30 percent, which, he detailed, is made up of two components: firstly a 44 percent increase in pharmaceutical industry exports, and secondly the fact that Russia is funding food industry investments on the part of Hungarian enterprises, with three projects complete and two in progress, enabling Hungarian grain exports to increase by 89 percent during the first five months of the year. The next step will be the realisation of Hungarian water industry projects, the Foreign Minister told the press.
Mr. Szijjártó said that that during their meeting the Russian President and the Hungarian Prime Minister had confirmed what had been said at the meeting with Minister without portfolio for the Paks expansion János Süli and the CEO of Russian energy company Rosatom, namely that following a delay of 22 months caused by EU procedures, the construction process at Paks will begin at the very beginning of next year in January, and “nothing can now stop” the construction of the Paks II Nuclear Power plant. The total cost of the project is 12 billion dollars, and it was also confirmed on Monday that Hungarian enterprises will be able to perform 5 billion dollars worth of the related tasks, meaning the Russian party is fulfilling its previous promise of allowing Hungarian companies to have a 40 percent share in the project, he emphasised.
Mr. Szijjártó also mentioned that the direct air passenger route between St. Petersburg and Budapest had been launched, and that 184 Russian students will begin their studies at Hungarian universities in September. On Monday, he and the Russian Minister of Health had agreed to increase the number of scholarship places provided to Hungarian students to one hundred, he added.
On the subject of natural gas shipments, Mr. Szijjártó confirmed that in addition to Hungary, Russia is also working with Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia to ensure that Russian gas transported to Turkey will also reach Western Europe. This route “must be established by the end of 2019”. This is not a new pipeline, like the South Stream would have been, but is being realised through the modernisation of the Bulgarian, Serbian and Hungarian networks, and in certain places by the construction of short new stretches of pipeline. Practically speaking, this means that at the end of 2019 an infrastructure capable of accepting 10 billion cubic metres of gas will have been established at Hungary’s southern border, which in addition to providing for Hungarian consumption will be leaving the country “in the direction of Austria”, and accordingly Austria’s involvement means “there is also a major Western European interest” in the project.
In reply to a question, the Hungarian Foreign Minister told reporters that the refurbishing of Budapest’s M3 metro line was not mentioned at the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Russian President, but that it had been a subject of discussion during his meeting with the co-Chair of the Russian-Hungarian Joint Economic Committee, at which both parties had confirmed their intent that “the project must be realised without the amendment of contractual deadlines”.
Also in reply to a question from the press, Mr. Szijjártó said he had spoken with the recently recalled Hungarian Ambassador to The Hague, and the Hungarian charge d’affaires in Holland had visited the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which had repeated Friday’s standpoint, for which he had expressed his thanks. He explained that in his opinion “everything possible had been done” at Foreign Minister level, and it was now the turn of the Prime Ministers, who will meet on 29 September at the EU summit in Tallinn. “We hope that following that, we will be able to permanently close this issue”, he said. The Hungarian Ambassador will not be sent back to The Hague until then, however, he added.
With relation to the fact that opposition activists had protested against Vladimir Putin on the first day of the Judo World Championships, Mr Szijjártó said: “Everyone has the right to voice their opinion” and this is something we will continue to respect. When asked why the protestors were accompanied out of the sports arena, the Foreign Minister said that was something he knew nothing about and with relation to which he had not issued a decision.