A new gas accord between Hungary and Russia could fuel ever warmer relations between the two - at a time when the EU's efforts to nudge Moscow towards a peace in Ukraine appear to be unravelling. Joel Flynn reports.
Muted applause, but warm handshakes, as Hungary and Russia sign a new gas deal. An accord that sees Vladimir Putin agree to keep supplying gas to Hungary, extending a contract that was due to expire this year. It's a big moment for Hungary, which obtains most of its supplies from Russia. But, says prime minister Viktor Orban, its significance runs deeper than just energy. SOUNDBITE: Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, saying (Hungarian): "It is my personal conviction that co-operation and good relations with Russia are not just in the interests of Hungary, but for the whole of Europe. It is my conviction that the relationship between Russia and the European Union must be healed as soon as possible." This is Putin's first bilateral trip to a European Union country since July. The Russian premier visiting Hungary's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ahead of the gas deal's signing, seemingly cementing a growing warmth in relations between Budapest and the Kremlin. That has worried some in the West - along with Orban's increasingly authoritarian rule at home. But Hungary could yet play a key role in ameliorating the situation in Ukraine and the EU's sanctions on Russia that have resulted from it. Orban has tiptoed a fine line between his military and economic alliances with the EU and NATO on the one hand, and Russia on the other. And, says Forex.com's Kathleen Brooks, that balance could be critical for what happens next. SOUNDBITE: Forex.com Research Director, Kathleen Brooks, saying (English): "It's strange what's going on there, and I think that Hungary probably is a country that holds a lot of power at the moment, because it is in between the EU and Russia, and one of the only EU countries to have friendly, cordial relations with Putin, and that's quite a powerful position for it to be in." Not everyone in Hungary welcoming the deal - or, indeed, Putin himself. A protester from Femen the latest to show her discontent. Hundreds too gathering in Budapest earlier this week to protest against the country's strengthening Russian ties. Warming though those relations might be, the chill between Moscow and Europe shows no signs yet of thawing.