Politico reports: As Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to make a rare trip to the European Union Thursday, his choice of destination — Hungary — reveals a shift in the Kremlin’s strategy in Europe following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Putin has met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán several times since the Hungarian leader came to power in 2010. The Russian ruler last visited Budapest in early 2015 in what was his first visit to an EU country following the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
But this year’s visit comes amidst a subtle change in the Kremlin’s perception of Hungary. Putin has come to see Orbán as a Euroskeptic leader who can play on the European stage and hopes that Hungary could formally push for the lifting of EU sanctions.
“Over the past two years, Orbán has increased in importance for the Russians,” said András Deák, senior research fellow at Institute of World Economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. “During the migration crisis, he showed that he could raise his level in terms of EU politics, he became some sort of alternative to the EU liberal mainstream.”
For the Kremlin, a public visit to Budapest at this time has both symbolic and political value. Putin wants to show the Russian public at home that Russia is a world power. Moreover, at a time when the Kremlin is hoping to cooperate closely with the new U.S. administration and improve relations with European partners, Moscow could also usefully show that Putin isn’t a pariah. [Continue reading…]