On May 25, 2016, during an official visit to Hungary, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave an interview to the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet that is generally supportive of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. In the interview, Lavrov addressed three major topics: Russia's support to Hungary's Paks nuclear power plant, Russia-EU relations and Russia-NATO relations.
Concerning the Paks nuclear power plant, Lavrov told the Hungarian daily that the project was "strategically" important. However, during the joint press conference with his Hungarian counterpart, Lavrov said that "Russia-Hungary relations do not depend on any one project." The Paks nuclear power plant is the pet project of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, but it has been strongly criticized by the Hungarian opposition and the European Commission. The Orban government, which has been isolated in the EU due to its "illiberal" policies, views Russia as a possible political and economic partner. On the other hand, Russia, laboring under EU sanctions, seeks to find European partners to break its isolation.
On February 17, 2016, during Orban's visit to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that Hungary is Russia's "longstanding, reliable partner". Orban reciprocated by saying that Hungary wants to see "normalization of Russian-European relations." In an interview with the Hungarian Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog, published by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita on May 23, 2016, Hungary-Russia relations were discussed in connection with former U.S. President Bill Clinton's recent comments describing Hungary and Poland as "Putin-like dictatorships." Balog said: "We are aware of the risks posed by Russian ambitions for greater power. However... [Hungary] is an entirely different system, we neither want to emulate, nor copy [Russia] ... but isolation of Russia by the EU also carries risks." During the joint press conference in Budapest, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Hungary "cannot accept" the automatic extension of sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU, adding that "boosting Europe's competitiveness can only be possible if pragmatic and rational cooperation is established between Europe and Russia."
It is worth noting that in the same week that Lavrov travelled to Budapest, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Greece seeking to mend ties between Russia and the EU. Hungary and Greece are two internal critics of the EU's sanctions policy against Russia.
Following are excerpts from Lavrov's interview with Magyar Nemzet:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shaking hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (Source: Kormany.hu, May 25, 2016)
Lavrov: "Paks Nuclear Power Station, Which Was Built With The Soviet Union's Technical Assistance, Is A Strategic Project"
Question: "The expansion of the Paks nuclear power station is a key issue on the bilateral agenda, but pressure from Brussels can hinder the implementation of this project. Do you think that Hungary can give up the project due to this pressure? Does such a possibility exist?"
Lavrov: "The project of the state corporation Rosatom [State Atomic Energy Corporation, a Rusian state-owned corporation ] to expand the Paks nuclear power station, which was built with the Soviet Union's technical assistance, is a strategic project, in terms of the costs involved - over 10 billion Euros, the timeframe - 2032, and its role in reliably ensuring Hungary's energy security. Paks already produces over 40 per cent of the electricity generated in the country. I would like to stress that a large part of the project will be implemented by Hungarian companies and experts, who will ultimately operate the station.
Of course, we are aware of the attention to this joint project from European organizations, in particular, the European Commission, which has initiated several proceedings in this connection. At this stage, we see no grounds to doubt that the Hungarian Government, which on numerous occasions has declared its firm resolve to implement the project, will answer all of Brussels' questions."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint news conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary Peter Szijjarto, Budapest, May 25, 2016 (Source: Mid.ru, May 25, 2016)
Lavrov: The EU Should Show Political Resolve
Question: "Hungary is one of those EU member states that do not regard the current EU sanctions policy against Russia as normal or fair, even though they voted for these sanctions. What steps can Russia take in response to this European policy? Under what conditions could these sanctions be lifted?"
Lavrov: "It is obvious that the attempts to pressure Russia by means of unilateral sanctions will not force us to abandon our principled stance or sacrifice Russia's national interests. Our response to these unfriendly actions was balanced and took into account Russia's rights and commitments under international treaties, including within the WTO framework.
"As for the future of this policy of restrictions, the question should be addressed to those who initiated and spurred this policy. We have never discussed and will not discuss any conditions or criteria for the lifting of these restrictions. The EU has conditioned the lifting of restrictions on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements by Russia. This is absurd, because Russia is not a party to the Ukrainian conflict. This approach is only encouraging Kiev to sabotage the implementation of the Minsk Package. It is obvious that Russia-EU relations have been made hostage to the irresponsible policies of the Ukrainian authorities.
"We have tried to explain to our partners that this logic is faulty and the existing situation is unacceptable. The EU and its member states should show political resolve. Judging by our contacts with European countries, a growing number of our partners are becoming aware of the destructive effects of confrontation, which is fuelled by sanctions. Some of them, including our Hungarian friends, have said openly that we must leave behind this dark page in our history as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in this so far."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Hungary's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto (Source: Rt.com, May 25, 2016)
Lavrov: The Ukrainian Crisis Has Exposed The EU's Strong Reliance On Washington's Political And Economic Influence.
Question: "There is a feeling that Moscow is disillusioned with Europe. Brussels clearly sees the Kremlin as an aggressor and countries continuing to cooperate with Moscow, including Hungary, as the Trojan horse Russia is using to undermine the EU's unity. What kind of Europe is Russia interested in: weak or strong? How do you see the EU's future? And to pursue this issue, does the EU need Russia more or is Russia more interested in cooperation with the EU?"
Lavrov: "First of all, I'd like to say that the current crisis in relations with the EU stems from our partners' outright refusal to build a dialogue based on true partnership. Russia has repeatedly declared its readiness to work together with the EU on a broad range of issues - from abolishing short-term visas to energy rapprochement. Unfortunately, Brussels is dominated by a short-sighted policy that seeks to take control of the geopolitical space, including via the Eastern Partnership initiative, and to divide nations into "us" and "others". This policy line has culminated in the Ukrainian coup backed by some EU nations. When the Ukrainian nationalists seized power in Kiev and put the country on the brink of disintegration by their irresponsible actions leading to a civil war - Western nations decided to put the blame on Russia and introduced unilateral restrictions against us.
"We have clearly overestimated Europe's independence on the global arena. The Ukrainian crisis has exposed the EU's strong reliance on Washington's political and economic influence. We would like to work with a strong EU that would build its relations with partners in the international arena by acting on its own interests rather than [displaying] solidarity with actors from outside the region. Brussels' sanctions are adversely affecting EU economies, destroying decades-long ties between businesses, challenging stability and trust on the European continent and creating new divisions in Europe.
"However, we firmly believe that we are capable of reversing the current negative trend and resuming stable cooperation. There is no sensible alternative to mutually advantageous partnership between Russia and the EU - we have very strong geographic, economic, historical and person-to-person links. Russia and the EU are the largest players on the European continent. Our country is bound to remain the EU's main energy partner in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is in our common interests to pursue stronger cooperation in addressing new threats and challenges, in law enforcement, research and culture.
"Such policies, however, cannot succeed unless they are free of confrontation and restraint, [and] unless a dialogue based on equality and respect for mutual interests exists. In other words, there is no place for 'business as usual' when our partners tried to impose certain forms of cooperation on Russia, which were in conflict with its interests, and when Russia was confronted with a fait accompli.
"Now Russia and the EU have reached the point where we have to decide how we view our future relations and what direction we intend to take. We remain convinced that both sides would benefit from gradually establishing a zone of economic and humanitarian cooperation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which would rely upon equal and undivided security. That would require aligning European and Eurasian integration processes."
Lavrov: "We Cannot Ignore The Growing Negative Trends...Of NATO's Course Towards Deliberately Eroding The Strategic Balance Of Forces In Europe"
Question: "Central Europe is seeing the growing presence, on the one hand, of NATO forces, and on the other, of US forces. Military infrastructure is approaching the Russian borders and many people believe this makes the outbreak of a new world war more likely. Do you agree with this?"
Lavrov: "I would not like to follow in the footsteps of those irresponsible politicians who are willing to sacrifice the interests of peace and stability in Europe to their own ambitions and, without considering the consequences, continue to up the ante, fueling an alarmist mood.
"We are not inclined to overdramatize the situation. Having said this, we certainly cannot ignore the growing negative trends that are evolving as a result of NATO's course towards deliberately eroding the strategic balance of forces in Europe, including the strengthening of the NATO military capability in proximity to the Russian borders and the deployment of the European segment of the U.S. global missile defense system. Such actions can hardly be described as anything other than destabilizing and shortsighted.
"In this context, Russia will continue to do all it can to counter the risks and threats to our national security. At the same time, Russia is committed to building a mutually beneficial and broad European cooperation architecture based on the principle of integrity and reliance on international law. We hope that common sense will eventually prevail within NATO and that our Western partners will stop building confrontational plans arising from their desire to ensure their own security at the expense of others."
Question: "A new Russian foreign policy doctrine is pending. What are its priorities? How does Russia position itself in the changing world? As a regional power with global ambitions or as a global power? To what extent will the realization of these ambitions be impeded by internal, primarily, economic difficulties?"
Lavrov: "Indeed, the work to update Russia's foreign policy concept is underway. The updated text will reflect our assessments of the changes that have taken place in international affairs over the past three years, including the cooling of relations with the West, the intensification of integration processes in the Eurasian space, the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa and the related surge in terrorism and extremism.
"However, it is hardly appropriate to talk about a new foreign policy 'doctrine.' The document will reaffirm the key principles of Russia's foreign policy, including inter alia its independent, multi-vector character and its openness to collaboration on the basis of parity with any interested party, to effectively address today's current issues. They have withstood the test of time and proven their effectiveness and relevance.
"The world is going through a difficult, turbulent period in the evolution of a new polycentric system of global order. Growing competition exists over the format the future international system [will take]..."