Hungary’s Pro-Russia Stance: Strategic Diplomacy Or Kremlin Propagandism?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is an unpopular leader. Years of religiously-infused conservatism, characterized by a populism of liberal intellectual, migrant, and European Union denigration, is polarizing enough. Still, Russia’s regrettable invasion of Ukraine, instigated at the end of February earlier in 2022, appears to have provided us with yet another of the Hungarian leader’s reprehensible standpoints. Orbán has elucidated his devout determination to maintain good relations with the Kremlin, even at times of global shunning of Russia and its actions. What is the cost of this for Hungary? Having already lost allies within the European Union and across the western world, it seems reasonable to infer that such a controversial policy will not be winning them back.

The European Union heavily sanctioned Russia in light of its barbaric invasion of Ukraine, with many individual Russian oligarchs specifically targeted through an EU sanction list, along with the bloc having imposed an incredibly tight embargo on Russian oil. However, Hungary seeks to challenge this. Orbán has regularly supported the official Russian line of why the invasion was necessary, as well as apportioning the blame towards the West and NATO in his own feeble attempt to prioritize maintaining amicable relations with Moscow. The oil embargo has been categorically rejected by Hungary, with state officials having successfully lobbied for an exemption from the EU’s policy. Hungary also threatened to veto the adoption of the sixth sanction package with the aim of having Russian Orthodox Bishop Kirill removed from the EU’s ever-increasing sanction list. To make matters worse, whilst the EU was universally agreeing on the need for a drastic reduction in reliance on Russian gas, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó met up with his Russian counterpart to ensure that another 700 million cubic meters of gas were effectively delivered to Hungary. In going against the grain, Hungary has left itself isolated, with few friends on the continent it finds itself so firmly entrenched within.

Orbán’s utter disdain for Ukraine’s sovereign rights is nothing short of depressing. By peddling the line that it is the West responsible for the atrocities in Ukraine, rather than the actual country launching the invasion, Orbán leaves himself and his country in dangerous territory. Through such a move, Orbán is essentially ignoring the values and commitments upon which Hungary’s own alliances and partnerships are based, leading the nation’s already-fraught relationships to become ever-more fractious.

Orbán believes that peace negotiations attempting to bring about a swift denouement to the grave affairs in Ukraine should not take place between Russia and Ukraine, but rather between Russia and the United States. The latter, according to Hungarian officials, will be more conducive to pandering to the interests of Russia, thus belittling Ukraine in the process, essentially demoting it to an actor of irrelevance, despite the conflict persisting in its own backyard. For these views to be coming from a nation that borders Ukraine is incredibly surprising, with the intimate nature of the conflict for Hungary seemingly having no consequence to its leaders.

To emphasize Hungary’s deteriorating relations with its allies, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has formally stated that the two countries – Poland and Hungary – have so clearly taken diverging directions on the matter, thus expressing his contempt for Orbán’s remarks. Though it appears that it is not just Poland that has dramatically lost faith in Hungary, with Orbán having unintentionally driven a wedge further through the Visegrad group, of which Hungary is a member. The group’s two other members, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, also feel that the war in Ukraine and Hungary’s subsequent reaction to it has continued to exacerbate crucial diplomatic differences between the nations, leaving feelings of vindication after both states had already opted to rebuff their previously tight Hungarian relations even before the bloodshed in Ukraine.

Orbán’s policy concerns also hit a little closer to home. With the cost-of-living crisis ravaging the world, and particularly Europe, Hungarian society does not exactly seem best pleased with the course of action taken by Orbán and his government. Despite having controversially secured a colossal amount of gas from Russia for the winter ahead, projections show that it is not nearly enough. Whilst it cannot be said that purchasing more from Russia would be a sensible move, the reality remains that millions of Hungarian citizens are preparing for a potentially troubling few months ahead, with Hungarian officials seemingly doing little to resolve the tension.

Whilst Orbán’s implicit pro-Russia stance is unlikely to be overturned any time soon, Hungarian officials must recognize that their stubbornness and belligerence are not getting them far. Orbán may seek to extract as much Russian gas as possible, but he seems to be giving little consideration to why this policy will be rendered completely futile anyway. This is because Russia is simply not able to deliver on its contractually-promised volume of gas supplies, as the delivery relies on a route from Russia to Hungary via surrounding EU countries, the latter of which have categorically rejected Russian gas and barred any thoroughfare of it. Orbán must therefore discern that continuing to rely on Russian gas worsens just about every possible situation for him – namely, Hungary’s relations with its allies, its reputation within the global community, as well as its social security.

Instead of undermining his own position within the EU and NATO, Orbán must be realistic about his own nation’s power, and question whether this posturing to Russia is actually of any benefit. Orbán has long lamented the so-called ‘fall of the West’ and has subsequently turned to non-European powers such as Russia and China to side with the West’s challengers. However, not only has this undermined Hungary’s position as a credible partner for other Western states, but it has also relegated Hungary, in the eyes of Russia and China, to a position whereby it is merely treated as a pawn for external challengers who seek to weaken its alliances. In order to regain some kind of respect, even on a minute level, Orbán and Hungary must acknowledge that siding with Russia and its inhumane brutality, will only ever be viewed negatively. Not only has Hungary aggravated its pre-existing reputation in the here and now, but it is also digging itself into an extensive grave that may take the country decades to come out of.


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