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Hungary’s Orbán to host Turkish, Serbian and other leaders alongside world track championships

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Turkey, Serbia, Qatar and many Central Asian countries in the coming days, a sign of the European country’s continued drift towards the sphere of influence eastern.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a self-proclaimed proponent of an “illiberal democracy” that is characterized by an aggressive stance towards its Western partners, is planning numerous bilateral meetings in the coming days as the capital, Budapest, hosts the World Championships in athletics 2023.

The nine-day athletics event will provide the backdrop for talks with the Emir of Qatar and the presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as with the leaders of the Balkan countries of Serbia and Bosnia.

“If there is a big world event, then the given country invites its friends,” Orbán said Friday, adding that such events are “a series of more or less secret diplomatic meetings.”

The guest list, devoid of leaders of Hungary’s allies in the European Union and NATO, reflects Orbán’s desire to increase diplomatic and political cooperation with autocracies in the Balkans and Asia. In power since 2010, Orbán has implemented a diplomatic strategy of “opening to the East”, which relies largely on partnerships and trade agreements with countries such as Russia and China.

Uniquely among its Central and Eastern European neighbors, Hungary has maintained close ties with Moscow since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, increasing Russian gas and oil shipments and refusing to support Ukraine with arms or authorize their transfer across its common border.

This position – along with years of alleged rule of law violations and democratic backsliding – have largely isolated Hungary among its European and American partners, leading to the freezing of billions in European funds and sanctions from the of Washington.

Partnerships with countries outside the EU and NATO have therefore received increased importance. At a press conference on Friday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the theme of most of Orbán’s meetings this week would be on securing Hungary’s natural gas supply from Qatar , Azerbaijan and several Central Asian countries.

But Orbán’s most important meeting will be with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whom he will discuss security, defense and economic cooperation, according to a statement from his office.

Turkey and Hungary remain the only NATO members that have not ratified Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance, as more than a year of delays have frustrated many NATO allies. The Hungarian government said it would revisit the issue during the next parliamentary session scheduled for the end of September.

The Hungarian government provided no further information on the expected content of Orbán’s upcoming negotiations and did not respond to a request for comment.

Orbán will also meet Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russian leader of Republika Srpska, a Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dodik, who has openly advocated separating Bosnian Serb territories from the rest of Bosnia and uniting them with neighboring Serbia, was sanctioned by the United States last year for “corrupt activities” that threaten to destabilize the region. Four other Bosnian Serb leaders were also sanctioned in July.

Speaking on Friday, Szijjarto condemned the sanctions, calling them “very serious Western efforts to deny the democratically elected leaders of the Bosnian Serb community.”

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