05/12/2023

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Orban Becomes First EU Leader to Meet Putin Since Arrest Warrant

Orban Becomes First EU Leader to Meet Putin Since Arrest Warrant

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban became the first European Union leader to meet with President Vladimir Putin since an international warrant was issued against the Russian leader over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

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(Bloomberg) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban became the first European Union leader to meet with President Vladimir Putin since an international warrant was issued against the Russian leader over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Orban met Putin Tuesday in Beijing, where both leaders are attending the Belt and Road Initiative forum hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The leaders discussed cooperation on gas, oil and nuclear energy, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

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Orban’s meeting is likely to prompt a backlash from his EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as well as Ukraine, which have sought to isolate Putin since Russia invaded Hungary’s eastern neighbor last year. The Hungarian premier has acted to undermine that unity by sealing energy deals with Russia, trying to limit western aid to Ukraine, delaying NATO expansion and publicly calling on the EU to scrap economic sanctions imposed on Moscow.

Orban called the meeting with Putin the most difficult to date due to the “military operation and sanctions.” He said the aim was to salvage as many of the economic links as possible, including gas imports from Russia and Moscow’s lead role in expanding Hungary’s sole nuclear plant.

“Despite the fact that in today’s geopolitical conditions the opportunities for maintaining contacts and developing relations are very limited,” there are exceptions where ties are “being preserved and developed,” Putin said. “One of these countries is Hungary.”

Read more: Viktor Orban Loses Key Polish Ally Inside the EU’s Awkward Squad

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The International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant for Putin, citing his alleged role in unlawfully deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Hungary ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC in 2001, during Orban’s first term as premier.

The meeting took place at a precarious time for Orban, days after an election in Poland appeared to oust his main nationalist ally in the EU, threatening Hungary with further isolation in the world’s largest trading bloc. The EU is withholding more than $30 billion in funding on rule of law and corruption concerns. 

Read more: Xi’s Diplomatic Gamble on Putin Leaves Both With Much to Lose

Bulgaria also just imposed a tax on Russian natural gas transiting the country, potentially threatening the financial viability of shipments on the pipeline from which Hungary gets most of its gas.

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