Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

Allies keep close eye on Orbán's Moscow visit

  • Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has previously criticised the EU's sanctions regime against Russia (Photo: Council of the European Union)
Listen to article

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Tuesday (1 February) is heading to Moscow for a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin as the EU and Nato seek a united response to the military threat from Russia on the borders of Ukraine.

The trip comes after the divisive Hungarian leader attended a meeting of ultranationalist European parties in Madrid. Hungary neighbours Ukraine, where there's a large ethnic Hungarian minority.

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

Hungary is both an EU and Nato member, but Orbán has been labeled as Putin's Trojan horse in the EU for his close relationship with Putin.

Orbán has also drawn criticism from Hungary's domestic political opposition, which called the visit - coming three months before the national elections in April - harmful and contrary to the national interest.

Orbán in the past has criticised EU sanctions on Russia - although his government has not vetoed them - and Hungary has also been the only EU member state to use Russia's Sputnik Covid-19 vaccine despite it not yet being approved by the EU's medicines regulator.

Orbán has been relatively quiet about the recent escalation around Ukraine. Last Friday, he said in his regular radio interview that "we have an interest in maintaining peace".

His foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó told the Hungarian pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet that "nobody can request" that Hungary cools relations with Russia in the current circumstances.

Szijjártó blamed Ukraine for "depriving" ethnic Hungarians of rights and for being provocative. That, he said, makes it difficult for Budapest to help Ukraine "even in this conflict" with Russia.

Message in Moscow

However, critics are concerned that Putin will use Orbán to sow further splits within the EU and Nato.

"This trip can have an easy benefit for Putin to show the division among EU and Nato members, while it carries diplomatic risks for Orbán," Péter Krekó, analyst with the Budapest-based Political Capital thinktank told EUobserver.

"In terms of timing, Orbán does not seem to care about being portrayed as someone who is implementing Putin's will," he said.

European allies will be watching Orbán's message in Moscow closely.

An EU official recalled that EU leaders often engage with Putin - French president Emmanuel Macron had a phone call with the Russian leader last Friday - so Orbán's visit is not per se out of the ordinary.

The EU policy is to reach a solution through dialogue with Moscow. Orbán himself said he would be coordinating with EU allies before heading to Moscow.

"There is no problem, if he channels the strong EU position on EU unity in light of Russian provocation, delivers a strong warning on planned EU measures in case Russia escalated, explains to Putin how unacceptable this behaviour is, and convinces him to de-escalate," an EU official said.

"If he only goes there to talk about Russian investments in Hungary, that is a proof of non-European behaviour," the official added.

However, according to Orbán's foreign minister, this is what he plans to do in Moscow.

Gas, nuclear and space

Szijjártó said last week the agenda would include Hungarian gas purchases from Russia, production of the Sputnik vaccine in Hungary, talks on the long-delayed nuclear plant Paks II, which Russia is building, and space policy.

Controlling energy prices has been a key political campaign message for Orbán for several years, and he has blamed current high energy prices on the EU, a consistent scapegoat for Orbán.

Russia and Hungary concluded their long-term gas deal last September, but the terms remain under wraps, so any claim for victory by Orbán will be hard to check.

Paks II, the nuclear plant to be built by Russia, partly from loans with Russia, whose construction has been delayed for five years, and still faces administrative hurdles amid serious concerns over it lying on an active seismological fault line.

The issue of Russia is divisive within Fidesz and among Orbán's far-right and conservative allies as well.

In the rightwing parties' final statement on Sunday, the Polish version included a line on the Russian threat, while - in French - it did not. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been accused of receiving funds from Russia.

Hungary's 1956 uprising against communism, which was crushed by Soviet tanks, remains a part of the national consciousness, and makes many in the country uneasy about Orbán's support for Putin.

Orbán himself began his political career when he called for Soviet troops to leave Hungary in 1989, as a student opposition leader.

"The problem is that Viktor Orbán subordinates the relationship with Moscow solely to his own personal material and political interests," Hungary's joint opposition candidate Péter Márki-Zay said in a Facebook post.

"Viktor Orbán betrayed our historical traditions, his '48 and '56 martyrs, the country's millennial dream: Western integration," he wrote.

EU ministers to condemn Russian 'aggression'

EU foreign ministers are to condemn "Russia's continued aggressive actions and threats against Ukraine", while promising "massive" sanctions at Monday's meeting in Brussels.

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.

Agenda

Macron in Moscow, chips in Brussels This WEEK

Poland's president Andzej Duda will be in Brussels in an apparent attempt to end the EU-Warsaw rule-of-law row. The commission will meanwhile put ramping up European microchip production on the agenda.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us