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Eastern Bromance: Hungary's Orban and Russia's Putin set to meet, again

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FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, on September 18, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, on September 18, 2018. -
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Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP
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Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to visit Budapest on Wednesday for meetings with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The two leaders, who share a common disdain for western liberal values, have maintained and enhanced their special relationship over the years, even as the EU implemented sanctions against Moscow over Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Since the eastern Ukraine conflict broke out in 2014, Putin has visited Budapest a lot, expert Dorka Takacsi of Political Capital told Euronews.

''There was a Putin-Orban meeting every year, and there was a year - 2017 - when they have met twice, which is a quite a lot and does show that Hungary is somehow over-represented considering its regional or European role,'' Takacsi said.

''There are a lot more meetings between the two [Putin and Orban] than it would be reasonable, considering Hungary's economic weight.''

Putin's ties with European leaders loosened after Crimea's annexation five years ago and many top-level meetings were dropped.

Mutual benefits

''[With his Budapest visit,] Putin can demonstrate to the Russian public that Russia is not perceived in the same way in all EU member states and he can demonstrate that despite the 2014 crisis, he is still welcome in the EU,'' Takacsi continued.

Within the EU, Hungary has been one of the strongest advocates for backing off on sanctions imposed by the bloc against Moscow.

But the special relationship is also beneficial to Hungary's Prime Minister and his standing on the global stage.

''For Viktor Orban, these meetings are very helpful to demonstrate Hungary's role as a bridge between the EU and the East, namely Russia,'' Takacsi said.

Russia also holds sway over Hungary when it comes to gas and nuclear power.

Energy projects high on the agenda

According to Hungarian media reports, the meeting is expected to focus on the gas service contract that will expire in 2021.

Hungary is reliant on Russia for most of its gas, a dependence likely to increase when Russia's Gazprom state gas company completes the Turkstream pipeline that runs under the Black Sea to Turkey, with a branch planned to serve Hungary.

Russian gas currently is transmitted to Turkey in pipelines that cross Ukraine. The contract with Ukraine concludes at the end of 2019 and it is unclear if negotiations to renew it will succeed.

The other item likely to be high on the agenda is a contract to upgrade Hungary's only nuclear power station, a project largely financed by a Russian line of credit.

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