(Bloomberg) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban appeared to strike a milder tone regarding Europe's policy on Ukraine, all the while proceeding with a controversial nuclear project backed by Russia.
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Hungary won't keep standing in the way of European Union sanctions except on vital matters of energy policy, he told public radio in his weekly interview on Friday. While Budapest will still oppose any sanctions on natural gas imports, it can't constantly "go against the flow of traffic" in the bloc on non-energy issues, as that would be inappropriate in a union built on "cooperation, loyalty and mutual trust," he said.
Orban-led Hungary is Russia's closest ally in the EU and Orban has had personal disputes with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The Hungarian premier has also managed to get EU sanctions packages watered down. At the same time, the EU has retained clout by threatening to withhold billions of euros in aid from Hungary over his backsliding on the rule of law.
Underlining Hungary's ambivalent stance toward Russia, the government is sticking to a nuclear plant expansion project with Rosatom Corp.
Construction works on the extension of the country's Paks plant may start as soon as September pending the obtaining of some remaining paperwork, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said following a meeting with Rosatom Chief Executive Alexey Likhachev.
Hungary must also boost its defense capabilities as the war is gradually moving within Ukraine to territories that are closer to Hungary's own borders, Orban said.
The premier struck a softer tone on Ukraine though, saying that Hungary and its allies were backing the government in Kyiv because Russia had been unjustified in attacking.
"Everyone is on the side of the Ukrainians as one should be on the side of the defender," he said. Russia had "no reason to attack another country and start an open war, even if the Russians don't call it a war."
(Updates with comments on Rosatom project from fourth paragraph)
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