Orbán tells Ukraine to quit – POLITICO
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BUDAPEST — Viktor Orbán wants Ukraine to give up.
As Ukrainian flags wave in European capitals and Western tanks come to Ukraine’s rescue, the Hungarian Prime Minister openly questions Ukraine’s viability as a sovereign state. In Budapest, his government lined the streets with anti-sanctions signs. The Hungarian State Opera is staging a production of “War and Peace” by Sergei Prokofiev.
Russia, Orbán recently told an eclectic group of foreign conservative figures, has already managed to turn Ukraine into an ungovernable wreck.
“This is Afghanistan now,” Orbán said during a panel discussion featured in The American Conservative. Vladimir Putin will not lose and time is on Russia’s side, he argued, calling Ukraine “a nobody’s country”.
It’s a message almost diametrically opposed to the rhetoric circulating in the rest of the Western alliance, which last week crossed another red line when it pledged to give Ukraine dozens of modern tanks. And this is exacerbating tensions between Hungary and neighboring Ukraine. Orbán’s remarks sparked outrage among Ukrainian officials, who said they would summon the Hungarian ambassador.
Back in Budapest, Orbán’s approach is seen in part as a domestic political ploy to distract from Hungary’s economic woes, as well as a nod to nationalist voters. But experts also feel that Orbán’s rhetoric goes beyond short-term politics – the Hungarian leader, they say, wants to preserve his longstanding relationship with the Kremlin.
Either way, the fallout illustrates the growing rift between Orbán and the rest of his EU and NATO allies.
“Political leaders in the Hungarian government often talk about promoting peace, but – from condemning sanctions to adopting Russian ‘ceasefire’ proposals – they continue to promote Putin-approved policies,” he said. David Pressman, US Ambassador to Budapest.
“We join the Hungarian government’s call for peace, but these calls should be directed to Vladimir Putin,” he said in an emailed statement, adding that Washington “will continue to advocate for end of this war by standing resolutely on the side of the victims”. .”
But while the majority of Western allies have decided to provide uninhibited support to Ukraine, Hungary is doubling down on its position that Kyiv should simply stop fighting.
“Our basic humanity and our sense of morality,” Orbán told state radio on Friday, “demand that we do everything possible to freeze the front line, so that there is a ceasefire. and let the negotiations begin”.
Pundits say Orbán is not anti-Ukrainian — his rhetoric is simply an effort to play both sides and gain political points at home.
The prime minister has spent years implementing a dual foreign policy: reaping the benefits of EU and NATO membership while developing lucrative relations with Moscow, Beijing and other authoritarian capitals.
And when the same Russian government he was courting invaded neighboring Hungary, Orbán condemned the invasion – but did not completely abandon his pro-Russia stance.
Hungary is still moving forward with a nuclear power plant expansion project with Russia’s Rosatom. And Hungarian officials continue to visit Russia to discuss energy deals. The country, which relies heavily on Russian gas, signed a deal for even more supplies last summer – just as others sought to cut imports.
And while Budapest has endorsed EU sanctions packages, Orbán has sought to water down some provisions. Meanwhile, back home, he is waging a massive anti-sanctions campaign blaming Brussels for Hungary’s economic woes.
“Orbán has invested a lot” in his pro-Russia policy, said Péter Krekó, director of the Political Capital Institute, a research organization specializing in Hungarian foreign policy.
“There’s an inertia that pulls it in that direction,” he said. “It seems that [the] the government is not really in a position to correct these errors.
There is also a story there
Hungary and Ukraine also have a long and troubled relationship due to a dispute over the language rights of Hungarian speakers living in western Ukraine. Predictably, Orbán’s stance since the start of the invasion—not to mention his final comments—has only deepened these tensions.
“This is unfortunately clearly Russian rhetoric,” said Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, chair of Ukraine’s parliamentary committee on EU integration, when asked about Orbán’s latest comments.
“Hungary has long been an enemy of freedom,” she said in a text message. “We are surprised,” she added, that Hungarian statements and activities “have not yet received an appropriate response from within.” [the] EU and NATO.
The prime minister’s critics were quick to distance themselves from the government’s approach to Ukraine, arguing that Orbán does not represent all Hungarians.
“Orbán’s comment is more than shameful,” said Hungarian MEP Katalin Cseh, who recently returned from a trip to Kyiv with other members of the opposition Momentum party.
Ukraine, she said, is “a land of brave freedom fighters and other Europeans, who deserve our utmost respect”.
The Hungarian government did not respond to requests for comment. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry insisted, however, that the government was well-intentioned.
Responding to Kyiv’s decision to summon its ambassador, the ministry told pro-government media that the war was claiming lives and turning parts of Ukraine “into a wasteland”.
“That’s why,” the ministry said, “Hungary wants peace and an immediate ceasefire instead of arms deliveries.”
Say what he thinks others won’t say
The prime minister’s rhetoric on Ukraine is partly due to an early miscalculation on the trajectory of the conflict, experts say.
“The government was betting on a quick resolution of the conflict and hoped that Hungary would benefit from maintaining its relations with Russia,” said Zselyke Csaky, a researcher at the European University Institute.
“Some obviously thought that Hungary could become a sort of ‘bridge’ between Russia and the rest of Europe and reap the trade and other benefits in the meantime,” she said, adding that now “it’s Clearly that won’t happen.”
Hungarians who know the prime minister personally say part of the explanation for Orbán’s controversial comments is that the longtime politician likes to be outspoken on issues he thinks other leaders are too shy to address. .
“I think he’s doing this because he thinks that’s what many Europeans actually think – and he expects Europe to end up not supporting Ukraine,” Zsuzsanna said. Szelényi, who was a member of Orbán’s Fidesz party in the early 1990s and is now a government critic.
In his discussion with foreign conservatives, Orbán alluded to his belief that some politicians might secretly agree with him.
“The Germans are suffering because they know what is in their national interest, but they are not able to say it,” he argued.
But there is also the impression in Budapest that Orbán often criticizes the West’s response to the war because business circles close to the ruling party still enjoy economic ties with Moscow – and because he wants to strengthen his argument to oppose the sanctions.
The prime minister is “essentially seeking to create a justification to oppose any new sanctions that could actually start to damage his own relationship with Moscow,” said Zsuzsanna Végh, a guest researcher at the German Marshall Fund.
Orbán’s rhetoric also plays well with part of his electorate.
In Hungary’s nationalist history “you have the tradition of anti-Westernism, and you also have the tradition of anti-Russian sentiments,” said Political Capital’s Krekó.
Now, he added, the anti-Western approach “trumps” the anti-Russian sentiment.
But still pragmatic, Orbán is obviously trying to keep his options open.
Szelényi, who recently wrote a book about Orbán’s “tainted” democracy, pointed out that the prime minister also made unfavorable comments about Russia.
Orbán, she said, “essentially creates space for himself in this crisis.”