Russian president, Hungarian PM hail increase in trade, Hungarian exports

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said Thursday that trade between their nations in on the rise and welcomed a sharp increase in Hungarian exports to Russia.

Hosting Gyurcsany at his residence outside Moscow, Putin said that Hungarian exports to Russia reached US$2 billion (EUR1.5 billion) last year, a figure the Kremlin says was an increase of two-thirds.

Putin has been seeking to shore up economic ties with former Soviet satellites and allies, and a year ago he made the first visit to Hungary by a Russian president since 1992, shortly after the Soviet collapse.

Overall bilateral trade rose by one-third to reach US$8 billion ($6 billion) last year, according to the Kremlin. Putin said that while a trade imbalance persists "the trend is developing favorably for Hungary."

During his visit last year, Putin acknowledged Moscow's moral responsibility for the brutal Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, part of an effort to appease lingering anger and improve trade ties with Hungary - now a NATO and European Union member.

"The principle that we have followed - less about the past and more about the present and future - has brought results. And also less about politics and more about business," Gyurcsany said.

Putin said that Hungary had complained about oil supplies but that "all these problems have been resolved" _ an apparent reference to a dispute between Russia and Belarus in January that diminished deliveries to EU nations and raised concerns about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier.

Putin is seeking to boost the European presence of state-controlled gas monopoly OAO Gazprom - already a major supplier to EU countries - and he said Hungary and Russia have "great plans in the gas sphere."

Hungary's Socialist-led government earlier this month decided to support the expansion of the Blue Stream natural gas pipeline. The Gazprom-led program would extend the pipeline under the Black Sea to Hungary, which would then serve as a hub for Russian gas to neighboring countries including Slovakia and Croatia.

Some analysts have said Hungary's backing for the Blue Stream project could torpedo the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline project which would pump gas from Iran and Azerbaijan through Turkey through Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary to Austria and onwards, reports AP.

Ahead of Gyurcsany's visit, the Kremlin indicated Russia and Hungary are continuing to discuss a potential project to develop gas transport systems and build underground gas storage facilities in Hungary.

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