Hungary’s foreign minister travels to the energy fair in Russia ~ Washington

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s top diplomat traveled to Russia on Monday to attend an international forum on nuclear energy, underscoring his country’s continued close ties with Moscow amid the war in Ukraine.

According to the event’s website, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto delivered a speech at the opening plenary session of the two-day international ATOMEXPO forum in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Titled “Nuclear Spring,” the forum is aimed at the global nuclear industry and will serve as a “business platform to discuss the current state of the nuclear industry and set future trends,” according to the website.

In a post on Facebook early Monday, Szijjarto said his appearance at the expo will include talks with the head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom about a planned Russian-backed expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant. He said the project was “in Hungary’s national strategic and national security interests”.

“The global energy crisis means it is of unprecedented importance for a country to be able to produce the energy it needs. The Paks Nuclear Power Plant plays a key role in our energy security,” wrote Szijjarto.

The trip was the latest sign of Hungary’s ongoing diplomatic and trade ties with Russia, which have confused some European leaders as the war in Ukraine approaches nine months. Szijjarto was last in Russia in October for natural gas negotiations with Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, a visit Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky called “scandalous” as some of those present “were people who are on an (EU) sanctions list”.

The Hungarian government under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has maintained close diplomatic and economic ties with Moscow and has sought to protect its supplies of Russian oil and gas – on which it is heavily dependent – as other European countries have sought to cut off their Russian energy imports to punish the Kremlin for its war in Ukraine.

Orban, who is said to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the EU, has campaigned vigorously against EU sanctions on Moscow, arguing that they have led to skyrocketing energy prices that are hurting European economies more than Russia.

On Monday, according to Hungarian state-run news agency MTI, Szijjarto emphasized that “no sanctions can restrict Hungary’s energy supply, since one of the basic principles of our country’s energy strategy is that the energy mix falls under exclusive national competence”.

Last week, Szijjarto met with Rosatom chief Alexei Likhachev in Uzbekistan at an Organization of Turkish States summit to discuss the Paks nuclear project, a €12 billion expansion that includes building two new nuclear reactors. The work is to be carried out by Rosatom and financed with a €10 billion loan from a Russian state bank.

Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement on the project in 2014, but there have been numerous delays and approval issues. Critics of the project say it will make Hungary more dependent on Russia financially and politically, and pose environmental and security risks.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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