Saturday

28th May 2022

Analysis

Orbán will be closely-watched at EU's Russia summit

  • As EU leaders gather in Brussels on Thursday, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán will be closely watched for his position towards Russia (Photo: Council of the European Union)
Listen to article

As EU leaders gather in Brussels on Thursday, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán will be closely watched for his position towards Russian president Vladmir Putin - who threatens Europe's entire post-war security architecture.

Orbán has long been a thorn-in-the-side of the EU for the way he has repeatedly turned to Russia, and Putin, to showcase alternatives to the liberal democratic model on which the EU was constructed.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

And unlike French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Orbán did not make a stop in Kyiv when he visited Moscow this month.

Yet Orbán has often proved to be more bark than bite when it comes to his sympathies with Russia, and Putin himself.

And although Orbán is seen as the closest ally to Putin within the EU, he has never in his 12 years in power once blocked EU sanctions targeting Russia despite railing against them with reliable regularity.

"We [Hungary] are playing with our cards face up on the table, never hiding our view of Brussels' strategy as a failure, and the sanctions against Russia as a dead end," Orbán said, earlier this month, about plans to slap sanctions on Moscow.

But by Tuesday, Orbán was on board, though he left much of the climbdown messaging to his foreign minister.

"Hungary's position is clear: it supports Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as it has always done, and it does not disrupt European unity as it has never done," Péter Szijjártó said Wednesday (23 February).

How far to go?

Despite the rhetoric, a number of prominent experts expect Orbán to stay in the EU's corner as the crisis in Ukraine unfolds.

Orbán is good at identifying how far he can go in supporting Russia and then pulling back when he reaches a limit beyond which the EU could be threatened, according to Péter Krekó, the director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute.

Budapest, however, is likely to join with a number of other capitals, including Rome, Vienna, Berlin, which argue for cautious, gradual further steps, towards Russia.

"He will uphold the minimum of the Western consensus," said Krekó, who explained that Budapest will join a number of capitals, including Rome, Vienna, Berlin that argue for cautious, gradual further steps.

"The issue of the sanctions has a strong normative coercive power on EU members, and they can't get around it," Krekó said. "They all cry 'Barabbas' separately, but in the end together they cry 'Jesus'," Krekó said.

Late on Wednesday, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs reiterated on Twitter that Orban was committed to "joint EU policy" on Russia at the summit on Thursday.

To be sure, Orbán's sympathy for Putin has brought Hungary into the limelight, but there are plenty of other member states concerned at how EU sanctions against Russia could hurt them economically.

Steven Blockmans, director of research at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, said Orbán will not be the only EU leader who will have difficulties agreeing on when the next level of sanctions should be triggered.

Blockmans put EU member states into three categories vis-a-vis Russia: the "cold warrior group" with Poland and the Baltic states that have been arguing for the most pro-active EU stance; the "trojan horses of Russia" including Hungary, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, which are friendlier to the Kremlin for economic and financial reasons.

The third group was comprised of "dovish" members like Germany and France that would still like to see diplomatic settlement but hardened their positions after Putin's decision to kill off the Minsk agreement, Blockmans said.

What truly distinguishes Orbán from other Russian-friendly EU leaders, is that his government is the only one to to identify Russia as its model in terms of building an illiberal state, including cracking down on free media and civil society and curbing judicial independence.

But that may be part of a longer term strategy that, for Orbán, goes well beyond the strength or otherwise of sanctions on Russia.

"There are a combination of factors at play, including the overriding aim of Orbán and his clique to undermine the supranational character of the EU," said Blockmans.

Allies keep close eye on Orbán's Moscow visit

"If he only goes there to talk about Russian investments in Hungary, that is a proof of non-European behaviour," an EU official said ahead of the Hungarian prime minister's visit to Moscow.

Even Orbán rebukes Russia for Czech attack

Even the EU's most Russia-friendly leader, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, has voiced solidarity with the Czechs, as fallout continues over a Russian bomb attack.

Opinion

Why Orbán won't really change his spots

Viktor Orbán will never admit in his upcoming election campaign that his Russia-policy over the past 12 years has been a huge, strategic mistake.

Russia launches full-scale attack on Ukraine

EU leaders immediately condemned the invasion, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen calling on Russia to withdraw its forces and vowing further sanctions.

Hungary's Orbán secured fourth consecutive win

In a surprisingly massive win, Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán, Russian president Vladimir Putin's closest EU ally, has secured another majority in Sunday's general election against a united opposition.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us