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News conference following Russian-Hungarian talks

February 1, 2022, The Kremlin, Moscow

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

We are very happy to welcome and receive the Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr Orban, here in Moscow.

Our talks with the Prime Minister took place in a constructive and businesslike atmosphere, which is traditional for Russian-Hungarian relations. I can say that we have discussed most of the issues we wanted to review. Our meeting lasted for almost five hours.

We discussed in detail the entire package of bilateral cooperation issues. We reviewed the results of implementing the agreements reached during our visit to Budapest in 2019. We mapped out new and large plans for cooperation in the future. Naturally, we also reviewed a number of current international and regional issues.

I will emphasise that Hungary is one of Russia’s most important partners in Europe. Despite the complicated situation with the coronavirus pandemic, our trade in 11 months of last year increased by 30 percent – up to US$5.5 billion. Reciprocal investment is almost US$1 billion.

The Russian-Hungarian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation is doing a good job. Its members discussed in practical terms new mutually beneficial projects in various areas during its regular, fourteenth meeting in Obninsk last November.

Per tradition, energy occupies a special place in our bilateral economic partnership. For many years, Russia has provided Hungary with failsafe fuel supplies, covering about 55 percent of Hungary’s oil consumption and over 80 percent of gas.

Russia supplies Hungary with natural gas under long-term contracts that were extended last year to 2036. Thus, Hungarian consumers can buy gas at prices below the market spot prices that have substantially increased in Europe recently.

It is also important that Russian gas is distributed further into Western Europe through Hungarian territory. Hungary has invariably confirmed its reputation as a reliable partner in the transit of Russian fuels. Naturally, we are willing to build up mutually advantageous cooperation in this area, also taking into account the role of natural gas as the cleanest and most eco-friendly fuel as we transition to a green economy.

I should note that the Hungarian MOL Group is involved in developing Russian oil deposits in Orenburg Region that produce around 500,000 tonnes of oil every year. Moreover, last year, MOL and Tatneft launched construction of a state-of-the-art bitumen production facility in Nizhnekamsk.

Russia and Hungary are working on a large strategic nuclear energy project. Rosatom is building two new energy units at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, which will increase the plant’s capacity by more than 100 percent, to 4,400 MW.

We discussed cooperation in industrial production – specifically, on the important Russian-Hungarian project focusing on railway carriage manufacturing and export to third countries, mainly Egypt. As of the beginning of 2022, Egyptian railway companies have already obtained 600 new modern and comfortable coaches. We are to deliver 700 more carriages under the contract. This provides a workload for our industrial facilities and decent wages for our workers.

Prime Minister Orban and I also discussed freight shipping from China via Russia to Hungary, Southern Europe, and the Balkans. We expect that a joint venture that our countries agreed to establish will be launched during the first half of this year.

Russia and Hungary closely cooperate in healthcare and medicine production and coordinate their COVID-19 countermeasures as partners.

As you know, Hungary was the first European country to approve and even use Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and to recognise Russian vaccination certificates. Last year, we supplied 2 million doses of Sputnik V to Hungary and we plan to localise its production in the country.

In addition, we are also discussing a supply of Sputnik Light vaccines that can be used as a booster in addition to other foreign vaccines.

Another example of successful Russian-Hungarian cooperation in healthcare is involvement of the Gedeon Richter holding in upgrading an integrated pharmaceutical plant in Yegoryevsk. Also, in cooperation with our Hungarian partners, we are building a plant in Obninsk that will produce advanced implants and prosthetic devices.

During the talks, we certainly covered humanitarian cooperation. There is a Russian-Hungarian cultural cooperation programme for the period up to 2024. Last year, Hungary successfully hosted the Days of Russian Spiritual Culture. Our countries are engaged in extensive research and academic exchanges, organising exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events. Hungarian students study at Russian universities, including on a tuition-free basis.

I would especially like to thank the Hungarian party for supporting Moscow’s bid to host the World Expo 2030. It is common knowledge that over the past 170 years Russia has been involved in the international exhibition movement, and it was represented at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the first such event. However, Russia has never hosted any World Expo on its territory. And we strongly hope that Moscow, one of the most rapidly developing mega-cities, a widely recognised leader in terms of introducing digital, environmentally friendly and other innovative technologies into the urban environment, will be given this opportunity.

We touched upon the current status of relations between Russia and the European Union while reviewing international subjects.

Naturally, we discussed the resolution of the Ukrainian conflict and the overall situation in Ukraine, including in the sphere of human rights, the violation of human rights having become systemic there. As we know, Hungarian partners are also exerting energetic efforts to resolve this problem.

We also had a detailed exchange of opinions regarding Russian proposals to the United States and NATO on providing Russia with long-term legally binding security guarantees. We would like to note that we are closely analysing the written replies obtained on January 26 from the United States and NATO. But it is already obvious that principled Russian concerns have been ignored and I have informed the Prime Minister about this. We can see that they have failed to adequately address our three key demands concerning the prevention of NATO’s expansion, a refusal to deploy offensive weapon systems near Russian borders and the return of the Bloc’s European military infrastructure to 1997 levels when the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed.

At the same time, while ignoring our concerns, the United States and NATO are referring to the right of states to freely choose specific methods to ensure their security. But this is not only about providing someone with the right to freely choose methods to ensure their security. This is only one part of the well-known indivisible security formula. The second inalienable part implies that it is impossible to strengthen anyone’s security at the expense of other states’ security.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Mr Orban for the productive joint work. I am confident that the results of our talks will help further strengthen the diverse Russian-Hungarian partnership.

Thank you.

Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President.

Good afternoon, hello.

Mr President, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to negotiate with you today.

We have met in an unusual format because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and I have never sat at such a long table before. Nevertheless, despite the distance, I am quite satisfied with the fact that you and I have managed to discuss all topical matters for so long and in such a detailed manner.

You and I have been cooperating for 13 years now, and today’s meeting was our 12th. Due to the global geopolitical developments, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the current meeting is the most important.

I am here on a peacemaking visit because I was able to highlight that the European Union is a unified entity. This means that not a single EU leader wants a conflict with the Russian Federation to flare up. This is particularly important for us in Central Europe.

I was able to tell you how we interpret history. We always stood to lose when a conflict brewed between the West and the East. The long years of the Cold War spelled sorrow and suffering for Hungary. Consequently, we, Hungarians, and other Central European nations are interested in reducing tensions between the West and the East and in doing everything possible to prevent a Cold War and scale down pressure and tensions. In this situation, dialogue and talks are needed to prevent this.

I welcome the dialogue between Russia and our Western allies. I have informed you, and I always tell our allies that it is highly important to continue these talks, this dialogue and to use all possible diplomatic tools to resolve the conflict and reduce tensions.

What can we offer? We can offer the Hungarian model.

The Hungarian model exists in politics: we are members of NATO and the European Union. Nevertheless, we can maintain excellent relations with Russia. This is possible. What do we need for this? We need mutual respect. Hungary has always been respected by President Putin, and we also show such respect for the Russian Federation and President Putin.

Though last year was difficult due to the pandemic, it was still the most successful one for our bilateral relations, because our cooperation helped solve major problems and overcome difficulties.

First, we needed a vaccine to counter the pandemic, and thanks to your decision, 900,000 Hungarians were able to get the Russian vaccine.

The second important issue concerns energy supply. Thanks to you, Mr President, we were able to extend the long-term agreement on the supply of gas from Russia. It turns out that long-term agreements are really of great significance, as we have noted, and we plan to add another billion cubic metres to the annual gas supply. We will negotiate this in the future.

Soon a plant will be built in Hungary to produce different types of vaccines, for example, Sputnik V. I hope that we will reach an agreement on this very soon and begin production.

With regard to the construction of a nuclear power plant, we hope to obtain the last license soon, which means that the second phase of the process, the construction phase, will start automatically. This will be a great achievement for our country, because we want it to be energy independent and we want to achieve this in the most climate-friendly manner.

We have also managed to establish a joint railway company through Russian-Hungarian cooperation. The newly established multimodal terminal plays a very important role in cargo shipments from the East, from China to Western Europe. This joint railway venture will play an important part in providing such an opportunity.

We also talked about launching new flights between our two countries. We believe that if there are new regular flights, then more Russian tourists will visit our country. There will also be direct flights to Budapest from two Russian cities, Yekaterinburg and Kaliningrad. We have also been promised further discussions on this matter in the future.

Let me thank you for today’s talks. We hope that we will be able to cooperate just as successfully in the future, as well.

Thank you very much for this opportunity, Mr President.

Question (retranslated): Good afternoon.

I have a question for both of you. To what extent did you manage to increase and improve energy supply security after today’s talks?

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: The Prime Minister raised a number of questions about expanding our cooperation. This concerns the energy sector and its various aspects, including hydrocarbon supplies, namely gas supply volumes. This concerns the nuclear power industry, logistics, the transport sector, industrial production and agriculture.

During talks with the Prime Minister, I contacted my colleagues in the Government and some heads of certain major Russian companies. They gave a positive response to virtually all the issues raised by the Prime Minister.

This also concerns expanded gas supplies. Indeed, we need to closely assess the Russian Federation’s stock after the autumn-winter period, but I believe that it would not be a major problem for us to supply an additional one billion cubic metres of gas.

We understand the issues raised by the Prime Minister. Gas volumes in Europe’s underground storage facilities have dwindled to about 40 percent of capacity, and our partners in Europe will probably face problems next year. Hungary will have no problems because we will coordinate additional volumes. I believe that the companies will make the final decision sometime in early April. Overall, the matter has been coordinated.

The same concerns a railway to bypass Budapest. The Prime Minister has raised this issue. I believe that we will resolve it. He does not know yet: I received additional information from Russian Railways on my way here. This concerns additional funding from the credit line. It appears that this project can receive $2 billion, and it will be possible to build a route bypassing Budapest.

The same can be said about work in the nuclear power industry, personnel-training, the resolution of certain nuclear fuel production issues, and so forth.

I completely agree with the Prime Minister that our joint work, which lasted almost five hours today, proved quite successful in all areas. We thoroughly discussed various aspects of agriculture, including the resolution of energy issues.

Viktor Orban: I would like to tell Russian journalists that today the cost of gas and electricity in Western Europe has doubled or tripled, which causes great problems for people. We can say that Hungary is an exception. For many years, Hungary has been lowering utilities rates. Russian gas is one of the most important conditions here. If we have Russian gas, we can provide a cheap supply of it to Hungarian households. If there is no Russian gas then we cannot do this. This is why it is very important for the Hungarians that we have come very close to reaching an agreement that Russia will supply us with one billion cubic metres more annually. As a result, we have finally secured the supply in Hungary.

The Paks Nuclear Power Plant will cover 90 percent of Hungary’s energy requirements by 2030. Without Paks, there would be no corresponding Hungarian environmental policy. Our talks today have made their contribution.

Question: Cooperation in countering the coronavirus has already been mentioned at the news conference today. I would like to ask you when the launch of Sputnik V production in Hungary can be expected? Can we expect purchases of Sputnik Light to revaccinate the Hungarians? Might production of Sputnik Light under a patent begin in Hungary? Has this issue been discussed in more detail?

Vladimir Putin: I will start, if I may.

As far as I know there are no problems with this at the political level. Hungary was the first European country to purchase Sputnik V. Talks are underway now about Sputnik Light. As I have said, it may be a booster vaccine to revaccinate even those who have had a European or American jab. We are now working on the production of Sputnik V in Hungary. Technical work is underway. I hope it will happen as soon as possible.

Viktor Orban: We have to obtain seven permits to use Sputnik Light in Hungary. Six have already been granted, so soon Hungary will purchase Sputnik Light. We are a country where all vaccines are available. We have had a positive experience with the use of Sputnik V, so it is good for the Hungarians to have access to this vaccine too.

We will launch a modular-type plant that will start operation at the end of the year. There, we will also be able to produce Sputnik V if we agree on this, and why wouldn’t we?

Vladimir Putin: Hungary has recognised and registered Sputnik V, so the issue raised by the Prime Minister today on increasing the number of flights to Hungary will be considered and I believe resolved positively in the near future.

Question (retranslated): At the talks, did you discuss any new aspects of economic cooperation, about which we have heard little up to now? Thank you.

Viktor Orban: Firstly, it is important to know that the Russian economy has survived very well despite the sanctions that were imposed on it. If you look at the figures, you will see that the Russian economy is much stronger than is generally thought in the West.

Russia is a country of not only past but also future opportunities. Today, we also discussed different new opportunities at our talks. Incidentally, the policy of anti-Russia sanctions has done much more damage to Hungary than to Russia. Russia launched import substitution in the areas where we used to supply it with our goods. Therefore, we lost the market. Russia has been forced to develop in a way that will result in a loss of the market by some countries, including Hungary. In other words, the sanctions policy has been ultimately counterproductive. Its impact is the opposite of what it was intended to be. Sanctions are admittedly doomed to failure. I do not consider them acceptable with regard to either Russia or any other country, for that matter.

Hungary made a big investment in the construction of a terminal on its border with Ukraine. This cutting-edge terminal is capable of reloading goods from trucks much faster than any other facility of this kind. This is a tremendous opportunity.

We discussed the formation of a Russia-Hungary joint venture on shipments, and I believe we can carry this out successfully. This will improve the Hungarian economy and will allow us to use Hungary’s good geographical location. It is suitable for transport routes, pipes, roads and railways. So now, together with Russia, we can make use of this good location.

Vladimir Putin: I have already replied to this part of the first question.

I said we have good potential in terms of logistics. I would like to confirm what my colleague has just said.

Indeed, the Russian Railways executives consider it a feasible project. Moreover, Russian Railways is even willing to set up joint ventures, at the Prime Minister’s proposal, for developing this transport infrastructure. We are also interested in this and are ready to work in this area and others.

I have already spoken about agriculture. There is traditional agriculture: supplies of Hungarian products to our market. There is also an agriculture that is not quite traditional. It is possible to use Russian agricultural lands for producing goods that are in very high demand in the world market. There are many such goods and we have just discussed this. It is one of the potential areas of our efforts.

Question: Good afternoon.

I have a question for both leaders, if I may.

This is a question for the Prime Minister of Hungary as the leader of a country that is a member of both the EU and NATO: what can you tell us about Russia’s talks with the alliance, the USA and the OSCE?

And a question for the Russian leader. You just said that the US and NATO’s responses are ignoring our main concerns. But I would still like to make it clear: in what form will you respond to these papers and, most importantly, what specifically will you say? Maybe you can tell us a bit more about the content of these papers and your response?

And what can you tell us about the security situation in Ukraine? Kiev officials say that if the Minsk agreements are carried out, the country will be split up.

Thank you.

Viktor Orban: The situation is complicated and the differences are substantial. The whole world should know what Russia wants. Obviously, the responses given to these apprehensions, that is, Russia’s security needs, and NATO’s response to them are very far from each other at this point. Even though it is a great distance, it cannot be called insurmountable. I was convinced today that these differences can be overcome and it is possible to reach agreements that will guarantee peace and security for Russia and that will be acceptable to the NATO member states as well. So, such an agreement is possible, and I am hoping that the talks will lead to this in the coming days and weeks.

Vladimir Putin: I would like to explain once again the logic of our actions and our proposals.

It is common knowledge that we were promised that the NATO bloc infrastructure would not expand eastward by one inch. Everyone knows this.

Today we see where NATO is: in Poland, in Romania and in the Baltic states. They said one thing but did another. As people say, they flaked out on us; they simply cheated. All right, that is it.

Then later, the United States walked out on the ABM Treaty. We tried for a long time to persuade our partners not to do this. It is one of the fundamental treaties on global security. Nevertheless, the US did what it did – withdrew from the treaty. Now anti-ballistic missile launchers are deployed in Romania and are being set up in Poland. They will probably be there soon if they are not yet built. These are MK-41 launchers that can launch Tomahawks. In other words, they are no longer just counter-missiles, and these assault weapons can cover thousands of kilometres of our territory. Isn’t this a threat to us?

Now they say Ukraine is the next step. It should be admitted into NATO.

Listen attentively to what I am saying. It is written into Ukraine’s doctrines that it wants to take Crimea back, by force if necessary. This is not what Ukrainian officials say in public. This is written in their documents.

Suppose Ukraine is a NATO member. It will be filled with weapons, modern offensive weapons will be deployed on its territory just like in Poland and Romania – who is going to prevent this. Suppose it starts operations in Crimea, not to mention Donbass for now. This is sovereign Russian territory. We consider this matter settled. Imagine that Ukraine is a NATO country and starts these military operations. What are we supposed to do? Fight against the NATO bloc? Has anyone given at least some thought to this? Apparently not.

Now, regarding the implementation of the Minsk agreements. On the one hand, we hear statements from Ukraine that it wants to implement them, while we are constantly accused of not implementing the Minsk agreements. On the other hand, we hear public statements to the effect that Ukraine will collapse if it carries out these agreements. Has anyone thought that if they create such threats against Russia, they will only be creating similar threats against themselves?

All these issues require very careful analysis and consideration for each other’s interests. We are being told that each country has the right to choose its own security system. We agree, but I still believe the United States is not that concerned about Ukraine’s security, though they may think about it on the sidelines. Its main goal is to contain Russia’s development. This is the whole point. In this sense, Ukraine is simply a tool to reach this goal.

This can be done in different ways: by drawing us into some armed conflict, or compelling its allies in Europe to impose tough sanctions on us like the US is talking about today, or by drawing Ukraine into NATO, deploying attack weapons there and encouraging some Banderites to resolve the issues of Donbass or Crimea by force. In this way, we could be drawn into an armed conflict regardless.

If we take a serious look at these numerous issues, it will become clear that to prevent the situation from taking such a negative turn, and we want to avoid it, it is necessary to thoroughly consider the interests of all countries, including Russia, and find a solution to this problem.

Why did we sign the treaties and related agreements in Istanbul and Astana that say that no country can ensure its own security at the expense of another’s security? We are saying that Ukraine’s accession into NATO will undermine our security, and we are asking our partners to consider this. They talk about an open-door policy. Where did this come from? Or that NATO has an open-door policy. Where does it say so? Nowhere. If my memory does not fail me, Article 10 of the 1949 NATO Treaty reads that the Parties may, by unanimous agreement, accept any other European State to the treaty. So, they can do this, but are not required to.

After all, the United States and NATO can tell Ukraine, and others: we want to ensure your security, we value it and respect your aspirations, but we cannot accept you because we have other international commitments that we adopted earlier. What is unclear or even offensive for Ukraine in this explanation?

We need to find a way to ensure the interests and security of all parties to this process: Ukraine, the other European countries and Russia. But this can only be done if the documents we proposed undergo a serious, thoughtful analysis.

I hope this process will be continued. I also agreed with the President of France yesterday that he can come to Moscow in the near future to discuss these problems as well.

I hope we will eventually find a solution, although we realize it is not simple. But, of course, I am not yet ready to talk today about what it will be.

Thank you.

February 1, 2022, The Kremlin, Moscow