Putin, Orban and the oil embargo. Who will support Hungary? | Europe and Europeans: news and analysis | DW

After winning the last in April 2022 in Hungary parliamentary elections FIDES – Hungarian Civil Union party, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will go to a fourth consecutive term at the head of the Cabinet of Ministers, with a two-thirds majority in Parliament. His fourth legislature begins at a time when Russia is at war with Ukraine, and a new conflict has flared up between the EU and Hungary. The reason is the oil embargo that the EU plans to impose against Russia and which Orban sees as a great danger to Hungary.

Hungary does not support embargo

EU member states have generally reached a consensus on embargobut no specific details have yet been agreed. The only EU member state that has spoken out against the introduction of a ban on the purchase of Russian oil and wants to use a veto against such sanctions is Hungary. While some European media outlets have reported that Budapest will back sanctions if Brussels grants temporary oil import permits as an exception, the Hungarian government appears to have decided otherwise.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjarto, who is also in charge of foreign economic relations, said during a visit to Kazakhstan in early May that his government would by no means support sanctions that would make it impossible for Hungary to import gas and oil from Russia and thus supply jeopardize Hungary’s energy security.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto

Earlier, the head of the prime minister’s office, Gergel Gulyash, spoke in the same vein. But more detailed information could not be obtained from the press secretary of the Hungarian government DW. He only pointed to the statements of Szijjarto and Gulyash and said that the position of the Hungarian authorities had not changed.

“The position of the Hungarian government is clear,” says political scientist Peter Kreko of the Budapest Institute of Political Capital in an interview with DW. “But it cannot be completely ruled out that the authorities will change their position, although they are openly talking about plans to use the veto.”

Why Hungary is against sanctions against Russia

Officially, the Hungarian government justifies its decision by the country’s strong dependence on Russian energy resources. At the same time, Hungary is not the EU country that is most dependent on oil and gas from the Russian Federation. Energy supplies from Russia cover 58 percent of Hungary’s annual oil consumption. In Slovakia this number is 96 percent, in Lithuania and Finland it is about 80 percent. Nevertheless, these countries are not opposed to the introduction of an oil embargo, although Slovakia wants to take advantage of a temporary special permit to import Russian oil.

Oil production in Russia (file photo)

Oil production in Russia (file photo)

Perhaps other reasons play a role in the planned decision of Hungary not to support the embargo against Russia. For example, relations with Brussels, which are reminiscent of a game of poker. The European Commission has still not paid Hungary billions from the fund to overcome the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic due to suspicions of corruption. In addition, the EU is preparing for the first time to apply its rule of law mechanism: the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leien, announced in early April that it would take measures against Hungary in connection with in violation of the principles of the rule of law there. “Perhaps this plays a role in the decision not to support the sanctions,” Kreko said. In any case, relations between Hungary and EU institutions are very poisoned.

Hungary’s position towards Russia

The planned veto is just one example of how the foreign policy pursued by the Hungarian authorities is increasingly driving the country into isolation. Hungary is the only EU country that has not condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Orban does not criticize Putin, and only nominally condemns the war against Ukraine. Hungary carries out sanctions against Russia reluctantly, and completely banned the supply of weapons to Ukraine through its territory. Because of this position, Hungary’s former allies among the eastern EU countries – Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia – turned away from Budapest. The most painful thing for Orban was the break with Poland.

Polish Deputy Prime Minister Yaroslav Kaczynski accused Orban of being blind and not seeing Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine and advised him to visit an optometrist.

“The foreign policy position of Hungary in Europe has never been as weak as it is now,” says political scientist Peter Kreko. “The Orban government has led itself to a dead end. To be honest, I don’t understand the calculation behind Orban’s foreign policy, I don’t see a reasonable strategy and rational action.

Alexey Danilov

Alexey Danilov

Blow to Orban’s image

Because of the friendly stance towards Putin, Viktor Orban is also criticized from the other side. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC), accuses the Hungarian prime minister of seeking to acquire parts of western Ukraine where the Hungarian national minority lives. In his opinion, this is the reason for Orban’s cooperation with Putin, who informed the Hungarian prime minister about the upcoming war even before it began.

The accusations cause great resonance in the country. Secretary of State at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry Tomasz Mencher and government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs call it lies and fakes, which they invented because Hungary refused to supply weapons to Ukraine.

Political scientist Peter Kreko sees no sign that Hungary is claiming part of the territory in western Ukraine. “Orban looked very surprised when the war started. And Orban is not sending soldiers or weapons to Ukraine,” the political scientist emphasizes. Such statements, as by Danilov, are baseless and irresponsible, as long as there is no evidence for this. But due to the friendly foreign policy towards Putin, such statements are very harmful to Orban’s image, the political scientist admits.

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