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Russian Foreign Minister Concludes Visit to Hungary - 2003-07-03

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has concluded a two-day visit to Hungary. The visit shows how relations between Russia and Hungary have greatly improved since the last Russian soldiers left Hungarian soil more than a decade ago.

At the end of his visit, Mr. Ivanov said he welcomed a "new atmosphere" in relations between Russia and Hungary. The new atmosphere, he said, made it possible to solve issues that had long divided the two countries.

A major factor in the warming relations is the left-leaning government of Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, who came to power last year, that has placed renewed emphasis on improving relations that had cooled during the years Hungary's previous center-right government was in power.

In January, for example, Russia paid off a long-standing debt to Hungary of almost $500 million that dated back to the Soviet era.

Both countries are also interested in improving their trade relations. Mr. Ivanov said two of Russia's major energy companies, Gazprom and Lukoil, were taking a greater interest in the Hungarian market as a result of the better relations between the two countries.

In addition to greater trade with Russia, Hungary also hopes that the warmer relations will lead to the return of valuable works of art taken by Russian soldiers after World War II.

A Hungarian foreign ministry official says that the details are expected to be worked out when Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov visits Hungary in September.