Orban in the Kremlin: Not a visit to Moscow like any other

Status: 02/01/2022 05:25 a.m

Regular visits to the Kremlin: routine for Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban, even in the middle of the Ukraine crisis. The opposition mocks him as a “Putin pinscher” – and loudly asks whose interests it serves.

By Wolfgang Vichtl, ARD Studio Vienna

Long gone are the days when Viktor Orban made impassioned speeches against Soviet troops in Hungary. It was 1989, the time of the turning point, the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, who were unpopular in Hungary, had already begun. Orban only became a friend of the Kremlin much later: in 2010, when he was re-elected as Hungarian Prime Minister twelve years ago.

Wolfgang Vichtl
ARD Studio Vienna

Orban and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin are now pretty much the best of friends, Orban as Putin’s lawyer and advocate – in the European Union, but also in the so-called Visegrád Group, the “V 4” that Brussels sees as unruly: Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the less pro-Russian Poles. Orban also showed solidarity with Russia at the Madrid meeting of European right-wing populists last weekend. Sanctions against Russia? He likes to criticize.

Not a visit to Moscow like any other

Unfortunately, anti-Russian politics have “become fashionable” in Western Europe, Orban says time and time again, for example five years ago when Putin was a state guest in Budapest. Regular meetings between the two, by the way, is something completely normal – at least that’s how Orban himself sees it: “There was a Hungarian-Russian summit every year, just not during the pandemic. We’re talking about bilateral goals. And I have – better said: Hungary always has clear goals,” he said on state radio in his last Friday speech before leaving.

However, this year is not like every year: the Ukraine crisis is escalating. There is talk of an imminent war. Hungary is a NATO member, shares several kilometers of borders with Ukraine and, like neighboring Romania, is in demand when it comes to stationing NATO troops. Orban has not yet commented on this. First he flies to Moscow.

Everything for a nuclear power plant construction project

Hungary’s Foreign and Trade Minister Péter Szijjártó is trying to divert attention from the Ukraine issue. Hungary must not become the “prey” of an “East-West conflict,” he says. He speaks of “hysteria” and that Hungary doesn’t want a new “cold war.”

Foreign Minister Szijjártó told the Russian news agency TASS that Moscow is working on the construction of two new Russian reactors at the Paks nuclear power plant – a project that is five years behind. Cost: Ten billion euros, financed by the Russian state bank. And it is about even more gas deliveries from Russia to Hungary, although a new long-term contract for this was only signed in October, via a pipeline in the Black Sea, past Ukraine.

Hungary’s opposition scoffs at Orban

Péter Márky-Zay, the opposition’s joint candidate for the Hungarian elections – early April – has doubts about this agenda of Orban. He wonders: “I would very much like to know why Hungary needs even more natural gas in such a short time. Most likely it’s about Russian interests, not Hungarian ones.”

The opposition demands: Orban should cancel the trip – which he will not do. For Orban, it’s a tightrope walk between loyal NATO membership and a strategic alliance with Putin. And it’s a problem in the burgeoning election campaign for nationalist populist Orban. That’s why he hastens – quite campaigning – to make it clear: It’s about Hungary, only and exclusively, also in the Kremlin: “Hungary is a sovereign country. We always have the interests of the nation in mind, also in foreign policy meet the President.”

The opposition scoffs. Attila Mesterházy, former party leader of the Hungarian Socialists, says: If Orban doesn’t cancel the trip, then he shouldn’t be offended if they continue to call him “Putin’s Pinscher” in the EU.

Russia’s Trojan Horse in the EU?

New nuclear reactors, more gas, joint Hungarian-Russian research projects in space, licenses for Hungary to produce the corona vaccine Sputnik: Hungary is gradually becoming more and more dependent on Russia, critics say in their own country too. They therefore see Hungary as a kind of Trojan horse for Russia – in the European Union. That fits with Orban’s anti-Brussels attitude – also in the Western Balkans.

Orban is also a welcome guest in the Friends of Russia club there. The right-wing populist leader in the Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, is one of them – and relies on his friend Orban. So does Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia’s pro-Russian president.

Geopolitics is being played out in south-eastern Europe. The European Union, including NATO, has had competition: primarily from Russia, but also from China. Orban is therefore welcome as a like-minded person; moreover as acting head of government of an EU and NATO country.

Conversely, Orban can use help from Russia: financial aid, especially since there is a risk of EU funds being withdrawn. Because on April 3 there will be elections in Hungary – and this time the opposition will have a chance for the first time in a long time.


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