With Budapest closer to Moscow, Orban grants money to Russian Orthodox churches

ZALAVAR, Hungary (Reuters) – Twice a month a few dozen Russian orthodox believers gather in a small Catholic chapel whose foundations date back to the 11th century, their temporary place of worship as they do not have a church of their own in western Hungary.

These worshippers now have a good chance of having their own church built in the spa town of Heviz, after Prime Minister Viktor Orban granted 2.4 billion forints ($9 million) in the budget to the renovating and building of Russian Orthodox churches.

Channelling state money to the Hungarian branch of the Russian church, which had just 2,365 followers in the latest census in the mostly Catholic country of 10 million, was seen by political analysts and critics as a bid to win favor with President Vladimir Putin.

Orban signed off the decree and it was published on Feb. 1, the day before he received Putin in Budapest. It was their fourth meeting in two years and Putin was back on Aug. 28 for a judo event when they met again. On that day, Orban allocated an additional 313 million forints to the Russian Orthodox church.

Although the amounts are small, some analysts and critics see the bolstering of the Russian Orthodox Church with state cash as significant in the context of Russian-Hungarian relations.

“This move is on the one hand a gesture toward Vladimir Putin, and the Russians, a small community living here in Hungary, but at the same time it really shows the … influence of Russia on Hungary,” said Peter Kreko, director of think-tank Political Capital.

AN UNSETTLING ALIGNMENT

Hungary’s alignment to Russia is unsettling to fellow European Union member states where Russia’s alleged interference is taken with such alarm that several countries have moved to set up agencies to counter it.

Inside the European Union, Hungary promotes scrapping economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, saying it hurts trade.

Trade ties between Russia and Hungary include a gas supply pact…

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