Visit in spite of sanctions

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On Tuesday Vladimir Putin starts his visit to Hungary. This is the third Putin`s visit to the EU since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, which gives it a particular symbolic significance. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the key public critics of the united Europe, openly sympathizes with Putin, however, according to experts, he does it to put pressure on big European countries for the sake of his own interests and there is no strategy behind it.

The main stated purpose of Putin's visit is to discuss cooperation between Russia and Hungary in the sphere of energy. Among others, they are going to discuss the issue of Hungary`s joining the "Turkish stream" project.

It replaced the "South Stream" project which was rejected by Russia. On Monday in the interview to RIA “Novosti” the Assistant to the President of Russia Yuri Ushakov said that Hungary being an importer of Russian oil and natural gas is of particular importance as "a potential transit country".

The Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Siyyarto, in his turn, stated that Putin's visit "is of fundamental importance" for energy supplies to Europe. He also suggested that the EU countries should take part in financing the project of the pipeline from Turkey to Europe.

The Kremlin press service informed that via this one-day visit to Hungary Putin reciprocates the visit of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to Russia last January. This is the second visit to Hungary for Putin during his presidential career - he visited this country for the first time in February 2006.

It should also be noted that this is only the second visit of the Russian leader to the EU since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis: last summer he traveled to Austria, excluding his participation in commemorations in France devoted to the Allied landings in Normandy.

Putin has maintained long relationship with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban since the beginning of the 2000s, when Putin was elected president for the first time and Orban served as Prime Minister for the first time. Both leaders started as westerners but later abandoned their original ideal

The Hungarian leader has repeatedly spoken positively of Putin as a statesman. Although Hungary supported the EU sanctions against Russia, Orban criticized their necessity and noted that the EU did nothing but "hurt itself" by this step.

The pro-government press characterizes Putin's visit as a great success for Orban, and the authorities prepare carefully to accept the Russian leader, which is ironically covered by the Hungarian liberal portal Index.

"There`s no better way to announce the upcoming arrival ofVladimir Putinin Budapest," writes a blogger of the portal under the photo of a road worker who welds up a manhole on one of the city`s streets for safety reasons.

The experts note that the Hungarian authorities have provided journalists with very little information about the visit, while the Russian party appeared to be more open and came off as a source of the necessary information for most of the journalists.

Most of the agreements to be signed during the visit are related to the bilateral economic cooperation, educational programs and have a technical nature, says the Hungarian political analyst Andras Rax from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in his interview to "Gazety.Ru".

"These documents do not require personal presence of Vladimir Vladimirovich," says political analyst Rax with a shade of irony. From this the expert concludes that it is not the content of the visit that matters for the parties but its "political significance".

Rax notes that the visit is important for both leaders. For Orban - to give an impression of an independent politician, for Putin - to demonstrate that regardless of the sanctions there are countries in the heart of Europe where he is cordially accepted.

This opinion is shared by Yury Kvashnin, the head of the research sector of the European Union Studies of IWEIR, who also believes that the visit has a "propaganda" value for both politicians.

Noting the criticism of Orban by western countries, Kvashnin underlines that they understand "he is a friend of Russia because life is not a bed of roses". Strengthening economic relations helped Orban to keep prices for energy, which guaranteed support of the electorate for him, says Kvashnin. Orban has gained popularity thanks to the participation of "Rosatom" in the modernization of the Hungarian NPP "Paks" built with the assistance of the USSR.

However, the expert notes that Orban has a strong opposition within the country which doesn`t like his pro-Russian sentiment.

One of the opposition leaders - the former socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány calls Putin's visit "the failure of the Hungarian diplomacy". He calls Orban to show Putin that it`s time to finish his "peacock dance between Berlin, Moscow and Brussels" because Hungary remains to be an ally of the EU.

The opposition groups are going to protest against the visit of the Russian leader: on the doors of the Orban`s party headquarters there`s a poster with both leaders and Soviet tanks that kept down anti-Soviet uprisings in 1956.

There`s a direct link between contemporary Russia and the Soviet Union in the minds of many people in Hungary.

Finally, before Putin`s visit Index published an article referring to the head of the Hermitage Fund Bill Bruder, who claims that allegedly, the Russian President has a fortune of $ 200 billion.

Nevertheless, Putin's visit takes place in a period which is very favorable for Orban. According to the recent poll, the Conservative Party "Fides" that is headed by him together with its allies - the Christian Democrats - would receive about 40% of the votes if parliamentary elections were held in February. The second most popular party is the far-right party "Jobbik", which is considered a neo-Nazi one by many people. Its leaders have also expressed support for the actions of Russia in Ukraine. The once popular Socialist Party comes only third with 12% of the voters` support.

The Hungarian political expert Rax believes that in reality Orban pursues a multi vector policy maneuvering between Russia and the EU. Such a policy has been characteristic, for example, of the leader of the socialist Hungary Janos Kadar. "Kadar, having been a leader of the eastern Soviet bloc, was building relations with the West, whereas Orban, not abandoning the EU, is building relations with Russia", - explains the expert.

The American political scientist Fareed Zakaria in his sensationalarticleabout the political ideology of the present-day politicians-authoritarians has brought Putin, Orban and the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in one line.

However, the IWEIR expert Yury Kvashnin disagrees on such an opinion. "Regardless of the apparent odium, Orban can hardly be called an authoritarian - he's still a European politician, I would compare him with Silvio Berlusconi", - says the researcher noting that Orban remains loyal to such European institutions as NATO and the EU.

Text and pictures by GAZETA.RU