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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hungary Eyes Better Trade With Russia

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Hungary's Socialists, set to lead a new center-left government, promised Monday to breathe new life into diplomatic and economic ties with Russia, once a major trading partner.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's center-right government, which was ousted in a general election whose final round of voting took place on Sunday, neglected links with Russia during its four-year term, as Hungary's priority switched to joining the European Union.

Orban also opposed Russian companies buying up smaller Hungarian firms, although Russia's huge eastern market has become crucial for a raft of Hungary's drug and food makers.

Laszlo Kovacs, the Socialist Party president who is likely to be Hungary's new foreign minister, said he planned to move swiftly to mend fences and restore good relations with Russia.

"We have some experience in settling Hungarian-Russian relations," Kovacs said. "If Hungary doesn't try to act like a superpower with Russia, then it's already halfway to success [in improving ties]."

Relations between the two countries have been strained over the years as Moscow felt the Hungarians were trying to punch above their weight for a small nation of 10 million people.

Russia is important for Hungary not just because of the role it plays internationally and in Eastern Europe, but also because of the size of its potential market, Kovacs said.

Hungary's biggest pharmaceuticals companies Richter Gedeon and Egis are both major exporters to Russia.