Orbán continues to follow Putin’s path

2017-02-03

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit on 2 February to Budapest indicates there is a strategic alliance between the two sides, which aims to strengthen „internal opposition” within the European Union trying to cancel sanctions against Russia and weaken European integration.

  • While Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó defined Hungary’s role as a “pillar” of the reconstruction of Europe-Russia relations, the role of the Hungarian government is currently restricted to serving Russian interests in the EU. Moscow is not interested in “normalisation,” returning to the pre-crisis status quo. Putin’s goal is a return to asymmetric, bilateral relations. Therefore, Russian leadership tries to disrupt EU unity through disinformation and influence exerted on the European public, French, German, etc. elections with the aid of the Russian media empire, secret services.
  • The Hungarian government serves its own interests, but not those of Hungary. With the emergence of the bilateral age promoted by Viktor Orbán, the situation of Hungary as a small, export-oriented economy would weaken drastically against the raw power of larger countries. If the Trump administration struck a bilateral deal with the Kremlin regarding the conflict in Ukraine, a solution openly endorsed by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, it would take the form of a second “Yalta Conference” excluding smaller states, sidelining Hungarian interests in the region.

Regarding the details, the Orbán-Putin meeting had significance in four areas:

1. Viktor Orbán confirmed Vladimir Putin’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine war

  • Viktor Orbán praised the hardships and successes of Russian-Hungarian economic cooperation in the face of „significant anti-Russian sentiments on the Western part of the continent” and the self-defined fashionable „anti-Russian politics” without mentioning the war in Ukraine. This way the Hungarian prime minister denied any economic or political solidarity from Ukraine.
  • The Hungarian head of government not only disregarded Russia’s role in the Russia-Ukraine war as an aggressor, its responsibility for the economic sanctions, but even called Ukraine an obstacle to economic prosperity. In his interpretation, they wrongly tie “a non-economic area’s conflicts” to an economic question, because “everyone suffers as a result”.
  • Contrary to the Hungarian premier, President Putin openly attacked Ukraine and accused Kiev of trying to extract money from the EU as “the victim of aggression”. Furthermore, the Russian president both admitted to and denied Russian intervention in Eastern Ukraine, where the government tries to silence the “opposition” but “they will not allow” Kiev to, for instance, breach the Minsk Treaty referring to the atrocities of the past few days. Viktor Orbán only added that he is not satisfied with the minority rights provided to Hungarians living in Ukraine, the provision of which is included in the Minsk agreement.
  • The Hungarian viewpoint rejecting and relativizing Russian aggression and the fact that there is war in Eastern Ukraine makes its statements supporting the territorial integrity and EU accession of Ukraine look frivolous. Moreover, there is a good chance that Hungary become isolated in the region, where the Baltic States, Poland and Romania considers Russia to be a military threat and the Czech Ministry of Interior set up its centre countering the national security threat posed by Russian disinformation.

2. The two leaders made a united stand against sanctions

  • Viktor Orbán not only separated the sanctions from the Ukrainian conflict, but from the aggressor as well with his statement that “non-economic problems cannot be solved by economic tools”, and that Hungarian trade suffered USD 6.5 billion worth of damages for Western reasons “independent” of the two countries. This way, the Hungarian prime minister repeated the false figure stated previously by Péter Szijjártó on damages to Hungarian exports.
  • Vladimir Putin also claimed he considered energy shipments and business to be a “depoliticised issue, purely based on economic necessities”.
  • However, the complete separation of Russian military aggression and sanctions cannot become a realistic basis for diplomatic negotiations, as the very essence of sanctions is that the decisions on implementing them are never based purely on economic considerations and goals.

3. Economically, the two leaders revisited already existing energy deals and regional cooperation agreements

  • Everything is going according to plan regarding the Paks 2 nuclear power plant built by Rosatom and financed by a EUR 10 billion Russian loan, Putin even offered that they would also get involved in providing the remaining 2 billion needed for the construction.
  • Viktor Orbán confirmed that the long-term Russian-Hungarian gas deal amended last year and expiring in 2021 is completely all right, and they started preparations for the agreement on the period after 2021.
  • In conclusion, the aforementioned energy deals ensure that Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia will increase in the future – thanks to the Hungarian government, which is paradoxically referring to sovereignty, “energy security” and its freedom fight against Brussels to justify its actions. Market forecasts predict that supply will rise in the following years. Therefore, it is not in Hungary’s interest to agree to a long-term gas contract after the 2021 period at this time.

4. The significance of the meeting that extends beyond economic relations is that Viktor Orbán will continue to mimic elements of Putin’s power political toolkit and his ideology.

  • The Hungarian government follows Russian autocratic patterns in its fight against the free press or the “foreign agents” in civil society “trying to overthrow the government” and it builds its oligarchic economy the same way.
  • The Russian thread is never exposed officially in cases involving Russian secret service influence threatening Hungarian or regional national security, e.g. no proper investigation was launched in the case of the far-right paramilitary organisation holding joint drills with GRU member disguised as “Russian diplomats” in Bőny.
  • While the Hungarian government objects to the establishment of a European Prosecutor’s Office, Prosecutor General Péter Polt signed a cooperation agreement with his Russian colleague in Moscow on a range of issues, including “fight against corruption”.
  • The Hungarian government awaits the visit of Patriarch Kirill to Budapest in the matter of the reconstruction of Orthodox temples.
  • For the first time since the end of the Cold War a new Memorial for the Soviet Red Army was erected in Hungary before this Putin visit. This indicates that the attempt to reformulate Hungarian public opinion on Russia, which is traditionally rather anti-Russia for historic reasons, now also involves symbolic political tools.

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