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Putin arrives in Hungary to forge stronger ties

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Budapest: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban cemented closer ties at talks on Thursday, amid growing EU rifts over sanctions against Moscow because of its meddling in Ukraine.


The Budapest meeting with the right-wing Orban — who wants the European Union to lift its punitive measures — was Putin’s first visit to a bloc member since the shock election of US President Donald Trump in November.


Experts said Trump’s ascendancy and the wave of populism sweeping across Europe is emboldening the two strongmen to push harder against the EU.


At a joint press conference with Putin, Orban denounced what he called “a strong anti-Russian atmosphere” in the West. “Anti-Russian policies have become fashionable in the West,” he said.


But “the world is in the process of a substantial realignment and we believe that this realignment will create more favourable conditions for the EU-Russia,” Orban added. “It’s hard to foresee global economic prosperity without Russia.”


Putin meanwhile hailed Hungary as an “important and reliable partner for Russia in Europe”. The Kremlin hopes that Trump’s apparent affinity for Putin will lead to a thaw in frosty ties between Moscow and Washington.


Relations have plunged to a post-Cold War low over Ukraine where violence again escalated this week despite a December ceasefire.


The Eurosceptic Orban — one of the few leaders to publicly support Trump — enjoys close ties with Putin but has yet to break ranks with the EU and formally oppose the sanctions imposed on the Russian economy for the last three years.


“Orban will take a step closer to Putin in terms of rhetoric due to a change in the international context,” said political analyst Andras Deak in Budapest.


EU sanctions were extended in December until the end of July 2017, despite some nations increasingly questioning their impact. Brussels’ focus on maintaining unity on Russia sanctions could take a backseat as fears mount that Trump’s policies pose a major threat to the already bickering bloc and nationalist parties gear up for elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. — AFP


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