Putin to visit Hungary on February 17

Putin to visit Hungary on February 17

BUDAPEST - Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Hungary on February 17 with controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orban seen as one of his closest European allies.

"We will have bilateral and geopolitical issues on the agenda... including the energy security of central Europe as it is one of the most important issues for the region," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told public radio.

"Ukraine will be on the agenda too, as Hungary is interested in having a strong and stable neighbour, and for the conflict to be resolved swiftly through negotiations but also for all sides to respect the Minsk (ceasefire) agreement," he said.

In Moscow the Kremlin confirmed the "working visit". It will be Putin's first trip to the central European country since 2006, and will take place two weeks after a visit there by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on February 2.

Like many other former communist countries in eastern and central Europe, Hungary has found itself treading a fine between Moscow and the rest of the European Union since the start of the Ukraine crisis.

Last year Budapest and Moscow signed a 12.5-billion-euro ($14.5-billion) deal for Russia to expand Hungary's sole nuclear power plant, with the Kremlin lending Hungary 10 billion euros to pay for it.

Orban, who like Putin has been accused by critics of being autocratic, has supported EU sanctions against Russia but has also voiced unease about them, saying last year that the bloc had "shot itself in the foot".

Hungary is also one of the countries set to lose out after Russia decided to scrap in December the major gas pipeline project South Stream that would have gone though its territory and bypassed Ukraine.

Earlier this month several thousand Hungarians protested in Budapest against Orban's ties to Putin. Activists are planning another demonstration on the eve of his visit, which comes just over a year after Orban last went to Moscow.

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