Hungary’s leader, visiting Moscow, calls Russian demands reasonable
By Valerie Hopkins
Splitting sharply from his NATO allies, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary said Tuesday that proposed sanctions against Russia if it takes military action against Ukraine would be “doomed to failure” and that Russian security demands were reasonable.
Visiting Moscow, Orban met privately for five hours with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and afterward said at an amiable news conference with Putin that he “did not see any intention” for Russia to escalate the conflict with Ukraine.
Most Western leaders have denounced Putin for deploying more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, and U.S. and NATO officials have warned that Russia appeared to be preparing for an invasion. Hungary is a member of the European Union and NATO, which have both pledged to respond forcefully to a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The president was very calm and said that Russia’s demands for security guarantees are normal and should be the basis for negotiations,” Orban said. “And I agree with that. We must negotiate.”
As Washington floats a strict sanctions regime in the event of a new Russian incursion into Ukraine, Orban said previous sanctions “did not bring the desired effect in the case of Russia at all.”
He said the sanctions imposed by the European Union after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 did more harm to Hungary than their intended target.
Orban, perhaps Putin’s closest ally inside the European Union, has long been accused of undermining the 27-member bloc’s common foreign policy and democratic standards. It was the 12th meeting between the two leaders since 2013.
“Mr. Orban is practically behaving like a tool of Russian foreign policy,” said Peter Kreko, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and director of Political Capital, a research group in Budapest.
Relations between Kyiv and Budapest soured in 2017 over a law Ukraine passed making Ukrainian the official language of education, which Hungary said discriminated against the ethnic Hungarian minority in the country’s west. Since then, Budapest has blocked operations of the NATO-Ukraine Council, the primary forum for the military alliance to engage with Kyiv.
In 2019, Orban welcomed to Budapest an obscure Russian development bank whose chairman had long-standing ties to Russian intelligence agencies, giving its leadership diplomatic immunity. Hungary became the first EU country to use the Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, contravening the advice of the EU’s medicines regulator.
The Ukraine crisis has amplified calls for Europe to rely less on Russian natural gas, but Orban has done the opposite: He signed a 15-year deal with Gazprom, the Russian state energy company, in September, and he is seeking to buy more.
Unlike most its neighbors, Hungary has also signaled that it would neither allow increased NATO troop presence on its soil, nor send more aid to Ukraine.