Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on Tuesday to discuss ongoing bilateral agreements between the two nations.
The pair were snapped shaking hands in the Chinese capital — the first photographed handshake between Putin and an EU leader since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
Orbán told the Russian president that “Hungary has never sought to confront Russia” and has always and will continue to “pursue the goal of building and expanding the best communication,” reported Russia’s state-run news agency TASS.
Meeting with President Putin in #Beijing. Everyone in Europe is asking the same thing: can there be a ceasefire in Ukraine? It’s crucial for Europe, including Hungary, that the flood of refugees, sanctions and fighting should end! pic.twitter.com/t6Ge0bXatZ— Orbán Viktor (@PM_ViktorOrban) October 17, 2023
“In Europe today, one question is on everyone’s mind: Will there be a ceasefire in Ukraine? For us Hungarians, too, the most important thing is that the flood of refugees, the sanctions, and the fighting in our neighboring country should end,” Orbán posted on X following the meeting.
Budapest has maintained relatively close relations with Moscow and faced the wrath of the European Union for steering its own course through the conflict in Ukraine and refusing to present a united front with other EU leaders.
Orbán’s administration has long opposed the provision of arms to Kyiv, which it claims is prolonging the conflict and increasing the death toll, and has advocated for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks.
The rendezvous exerts further pressure on Brussels, which requires Hungary’s approval for proposed budget reforms in order to unlock further funding for Ukraine.
“Given the fact that in today’s geopolitical conditions the opportunities for maintaining contacts and developing relations are very limited, it can only cause satisfaction that our relations with many European countries are maintained and developed. One of these countries is Hungary,” Putin told Orban.
The meeting was criticized by U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman who accused Orbán of “pleading for business deals” while Russia continues its aggression in Ukraine.
“Hungary’s leader chooses to stand with a man whose forces are responsible for crimes against humanity in Ukraine, and alone among our Allies,” he posted on X.
If the question is who's doing business with the Russians, the Americans should turn down the volume. They are buying more than twice as much nuclear fuel alone as they used to, and we have a whole list of them.— Balázs Orbán (@BalazsOrban_HU) October 17, 2023
We are fed up with @USAmbHungary's hypocrisy! https://t.co/rk3fRZFzB5
This interpretation of the meeting was questioned by the Hungarian prime minister’s political director, Balázs Orbán, who claimed that Budapest was “fed up” with Pressman’s “hypocrisy.”
“If the question is who’s doing business with the Russians, the Americans should turn down the volume. They are buying more than twice as much nuclear fuel alone as they used to, and we have a whole list of them,” he added.
“Since your president refuses to talk about ending this war, someone has to,” quipped Koskovics Zoltán, a geopolitical analyst at the Budapest-based Center for Fundamental Rights.
Both leaders arrived in Beijing at the invitation of Chinese President Xi ahead of an international forum on China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Earlier on Tuesday, Orbán met with the Chinese leader to discuss the strengthening of Hungarian-Chinese relations.
“Connectivity instead of decoupling: This is the Hungarian model. Our aim is to strengthen Hungarian-Chinese relations. This is good for Hungary and good for the European economy,” he said in a statement.