By Stefan J. Bos
Speaking in Budapest, Russian President Putin expressed concern about a "massive exodus" of Christian communities from the Middle East. He said Christians face persecution and being killed, raped, and robbed.
Putin, whose military faces criticism over conduct in areas such as Syria, stressed that supporting Christians in conflict areas is now " a top priority" for Russia.
"We also cooperate with every stakeholder in the Middle East and North Africa. We see it as inadmissible that some of the Christian community members may be persecuted for their religious belief."
And he claimed that Russian forces are already assisting Jewish groups and that they have restored mosques in the troubled region.
Putin thanked Hungary's prime minister for hosting a gathering where the Russian president could meet Middle Eastern church leaders.
The church leaders expressed desperation about violence directed against their communities. That prompted Putin to say that he and others watch what's happening to Christians in the Middle East with tears in their eyes.
But Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church warned that government leaders should act quickly to prevent the disappearance of Christianity in the war-torn region. "The situation is very alarming. You have heard that Iraq has lost more than 90 percent of its Christians," he said.
Many leaving Syria
"From Syria, I can say around, or more than 50 percent have left the country. Why? Who benefits from that? Not us and not the Muslims in our countries because the presence of Christians is very important to them, too," the Patriarch said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán has also expressed concern about the plight of Christians. But he made clear he doesn't see migration as the answer.
Instead, his government spent tens of millions of dollars on building hospitals, schools, and churches to encourage them to stay in the troubled Middle East and other areas.
Orbán also expressed concerns about the roughly 125,000 ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, many of whom belong to the Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches.
He confirmed that Hungary had vetoed a statement by the NATO alliance because it did not contain references to the perceived discrimination of minorities. "What do we do in this situation where the Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian region suffer from discrimination, and they live under threat?" Orbán wondered.
"So they suffer from legal discrimination, and quite often, they suffer from physical aggression. And if we Hungarians adopt this document, then at least we would like to get some guarantees in this document," he added.
Language and education
Orbán's government claims that changes to Ukrainian education and language laws limit minority rights. Kyiv also rejects allowing ethnic Hungarians to hold dual citizenship.
Hungary has provided thousands of passports to ethnic Hungarians in recent years.
Orbán defended his relationship with Russia, despite Western concerns about its military actions in Ukraine.
The prime minister opposes international sanctions punishing Russia.
He also said Hungary depends much on Russian natural gas and oil and therefore wants to join the TurkStream gas pipeline to increase supply routes.
The controversial pipeline would bypass Ukraine amid ongoing political tensions between Hungary and its neighbor.