Hungary's Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó acknowledged "many will attack me" because of his visit to Minsk ©Getty Images

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has insisted "communications channels must be kept open" with Belarus and Russia during the escalating war in Ukraine after a controversial visit to Minsk.

He has also called on "the international community to act in order to ensure immediate peace".

Szijjártó's trip to the Belarusian capital comes with growing debate in Europe over whether Russian and Belarusian athletes should be permitted to compete as neutrals at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

A group of 35 nations held an international summit last week to discuss the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) proposal to "explore a pathway" for both countries' athletes to return to international sport, having been largely excluded under IOC recommendations since the invasion of Ukraine.

Lithuanian Sports Minister Jurgita Šiugždinienė claimed that participants were "unanimous" in opposing Russia and Belarus' presence under any flag at Paris 2024, but some countries including Australia have distanced themselves from those remarks and a formal collective statement is expected in the near future.

Szijjártó met with his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Aleinik on his visit to Minsk, and Belarus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed a programme of cooperation with Hungary's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade according to Belarusian state-run news agency BelTA.

Aleinik has been quoted by BelTA appreciating the relationship with Hungary during the war in Ukraine, and declaring "we listen and hear each other".

Authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a key ally of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Szijjártó defended his visit by arguing dialogue is necessary to bring an end to the war in Ukraine.

"The war in Ukraine is getting more violent and more people are dying as a result of the fighting," he wrote on Facebook.

"Now human lives must be saved, and that can only be done with peace.

"Hungary expects all members of the international community to act in order to ensure immediate peace and to avoid steps that risk prolonging or escalating the war.

"I will also represent this peace position at today's negotiations in Minsk.

"Obviously, many will attack me because of the visit, but our position is clear: the communication channels must be kept open.

"If we didn’t act like this, I wouldn’t be able to deliver the message of the call for peace today either."

The IOC's proposals for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international sport as neutrals have proved controversial ©Getty Images
The IOC's proposals for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international sport as neutrals have proved controversial ©Getty Images

Hungary is a member of the European Union (EU), but right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been a critic of the bloc's sanctions against Russia.

Although Hungary has supported the measures, Orbán has expressed concern over the damage caused to European economies and has insisted the country would veto any European Union (EU) sanctions against Russia impacting nuclear energy.

Hungary has a contract with Russian state corporation Rosatom for a nuclear power plant, and Orbán has negotiated exemptions on areas including the EU boycott of Russian oil.

Orbán has also refused to ship weapons to Ukraine.

Szijjártó, Foreign Minister since 2014, was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2021.

Hungary is the highest-ranked country on the all-time Olympics medals table never to have staged the Games, but has been mooted as a possible host for 2036.

Its capital Budapest is due to stage the World Athletics Championships at a new stadium later this year, and has staged several major aquatics events including two of the last three World Championships and football matches including at the delayed 2020 UEFA European Championship.