Hungary PM Orban criticises Tusk, EU allies seeking to isolate Russia

by Reuters
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 17:43 GMT

BUDAPEST, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban stepped up his criticism on Wednesday of his European allies for their policy of seeking to isolate Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine, naming top EU official Donald Tusk as one of its backers.

His comments come one day after a visit to Budapest by Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which the two leaders agreed for Russia to keep supplying gas to Hungary, cementing their growing ties.

In recent weeks, Orban had appeared to want to reassure the rest of Europe that he was not drifting into the Kremlin's orbit, but his comments during Putin's visit and on Wednesday showed differences remain.

Orban told reporters at a briefing that the EU was divided along the lines of how to treat relations with Russia. Hungary, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria believed cooperation was necessary, he said.

"We think that without cooperation with the Russians we cannot achieve our goals," the prime minister said.

But the Baltic states and Poland, along with the United States, think Russia should be squeezed out from cooperation with the EU, which Orban said was based on a "value-based foreign policy".

"This rift in the EU is very deep, of strategic nature," Orban said, adding that European Council President Tusk is "on the other side" of this dividing line.

As Polish prime minister until late last year, Tusk was one of the most hawkish European advocates for tougher sanctions on Russia, a line he continued once he moved to Brussels.

Orban will travel to Warsaw on Thursday to meet Ewa Kopacz, Tusk's successor as Poland's prime minister. Orban has backed EU sanctions on Russia.

At the same discussion with reporters, Orban flagged a potential conflict with the EU over energy policy. Hungary's plan to run its domestic energy sector on a non-profit basis in order to provide cheap energy for households and industry contradicts the bloc's energy policy, he said. (Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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