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Hungary Hails Putin Visit, Says Sanctions On Russia 'Useless'

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto: "I don't think we should celebrate that we hit the Russian economy, because it's bad news for Europe as well."

The foreign minister of Hungary says economic sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia have been "bad news for Europe" and welcomed the timing of President Vladimir Putin's planned trip to Budapest next week.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on January 27 that the sanctions, imposed in 2014 after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, have been unsuccessful economically and politically and have not achieved their objectives.

"Hungary's position on the sanctions is that [they are] useless," Szijjarto told Reuters in an interview.

He said Hungary had lost some $6.5 billion in export opportunities to Russian and other countries since the sanctions were put in place.

"I don't think we should celebrate that we hit the Russian economy, because it's bad news for Europe as well," he said.

Szijjarto said Putin's planed February 2 trip to Budapest is the "perfect" time for him to visit, saying it would be the first time the United States would not be resisting Hungarian moves to improve relations with the Kremlin.

Hungary is a member of NATO and the European Union but has remained on good terms with Moscow since the sanctions were imposed.

A compilation by Reuters shows that 17 of the 28 EU member states are firmly committed to maintaining the sanctions imposed on Russia over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and aid to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

Along with Hungary, only Portugal and Slovenia have come out in favor of easing sanctions. The remaining eight countries that have expressed skepticism about the sanctions have indicated they would likely stick to the current hard line.

Szijjarto said he also expects a "massive improvement" in Budapest's relations with Washington.

He said he agrees with President Donald Trump's assertion that NATO had failed to successfully defend against the threat of terrorism.

"Currently, if we speak about threats, I see [Islamic State] as a threat," Szijjarto said. "A nonstate actor is the most serious threat to the civilized world. And in this regard, I think, yes, NATO could have a bigger role."

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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