On Twitter earlier, Anna Nemtsova wrote:
This was somewhat misleading, as according RIA Novosti what Orban actually said was:
“Up to know the sanctions have been automatically extended. I think that this period is behind us.”
I would interpret this as meaning that the EU’s sanctions would not be renewed by rubber stamp in July, but that there would be some wrangling over parts of it (probably over specific individuals and organizations).
This is certainly not a promise not to renew.
In the full read-out of the press conference with Putin and Orban, the question was asked:
“…do you expect progress [re: the sanctions] in the near future? And if so, what form will they take?”
Putin drones on about Ukraine not keeping to the Minsk Agreement, and keeps denying Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and saying that the sanctions should not be linked to Minsk.
“Today, it is pointless to associate the elimination of sanctions against EU nations with the final decision to bring the Minsk process to a logical conclusion, because, again, this ball is not in Russia’s court.”
Note that some analysts believe that the only reason Russia is attending and participating in the negotiations at all is because of the sanctions.
Prime Minister Orban’s statement begins:
“Hungary is a loyal member of the European Union.”
He then emphasizes the importance of “regional cooperation” in economic advancement, including free-trade zones.
“That is why I believe that if Russia and the EU are unable to establish economic and regional cooperation, an alliance, then we will all lose in this global economic competition.”
He continues to hammer home the idea of cooperation, saying:
“If we look at this issue from the point of view of the European Union, I must say that the EU’s economic growth is exceedingly slow, and this region cannot allow itself the luxury of not cooperating with everyone who could be a driving force for the development of its economy. In other words, common sense shows that we must cooperate. I think these are entirely clear political concepts.”
As far as renewing the sanctions, Orban states:
“I think that this year, in the middle of the year, there will be no opportunity for the European Union to automatically extend the sanctions, because there are more and more nations that hold the same opinion that I have expressed.”
What seems to be implied in Orban’s comment is that Hungary will not vote to continue the sanctions regime against Russia, but I’d stop short of calling it a promise.
Russia has been using the carrot and stick method in trying to get the European sanctions lifted. Unfortunately, this tactic appears to be working. In his comments, Putin highlighted the fact that: “Russian companies’ capital investment in the Hungarian economy exceeds $1.5 billion…”
In addition, the Russian President noted:
“Russia supplies more than two thirds of Hungary’s hydrocarbon energy needs: 75 percent of oil needs and 65 percent of demand for natural gas. Last December, Gazprom extended a gas supply contract with our Hungarian partners to the end of 2019.”
“A substantial amount of Hungary’s electricity, up to 40 percent, is produced with Russian specialists’ help at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant.” Putin continued, later saying:
“As you know, the overall volume of financing for the Paks Nuclear Power Plant is 12 billion euro, with 80% of the amount to be provided through a Russian loan. I confirmed to Mr Prime Minister today that the Russian side is fully prepared to meet all the commitments it has undertaken.”
Russia is bringing a lot of pressure to bear on the individual EU member states to not renew the sanctions come July. This meeting with Hungary’s Orban simply serves to highlight that fact.