Moscow’s Man inside the EU Raises Controversy

Hungary’s PM Believes Russian-US Talks Only Solution to End Ukraine War
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a business conference in Budapest, Hungary, February 19, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a news conference following their talks in Budapest, Hungary, 30 October 2019. Credit: Reuters
Supporters of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attend a rally during Hungary's National Day celebrations, which also commemorate the 1848 Hungarian Revolution against the Habsburg monarchy, in Budapest, Hungary, March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Marton Monus

Victor Orban, Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister, is not new to controversy and provocation. His speeches often draw outrage and condemnations from opposition parties, European politicians, NGOs and international media. 

Orban’s views on immigration and multiculturalism are no secret. Back in 2015, at the height of the refugee influx into Europe, Orban claimed that Muslims are direct threat to Europe’s Christian identity, and in 2017 his government erected a border fence to keep Syrian refugees, Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants out of Hungary. 

However, his latest speech on July 23 at the Băile Tuşnad in Romania's Transylvania region, appeared to be more provocative and divisive than previous speeches. He started by lashing out that Europeans should not “become peoples of mixed race.” He said, “We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race and we do not want to become a mixed race.”

Orban often cites the “great replacement” theory, or rather conspiracy, under which he claims that by 2050 we will see a final demographical shift in Europe with non-Europeans being the majority of Europe’s population. He continued, saying that countries where Europeans and non-Europeans mingle were “no longer nations” but rather a "conglomerate of people."

During the same speech, Orban also appeared to joke about Nazi gas-chambers saying, in the context of a European Union proposal to ration natural gas and cut gas demand by 15%,that “the past shows us German know-how on that.” The International Auschwitz Committee of Holocaust survivors called the speech "stupid and dangerous."

Orban’s far right, racist and anti-LGBTQ views are not the focus of this article. This article will look at the second part of his speech, which was an attack on the European Union’s strategy of imposing sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, saying that it has led to an energy crisis in the EU.  By making this contention, he has positioned himself as Putin’s man inside the EU. The irony here is that Hungary is an EU and NATO member, but has been “allowed” to pursue a neutral policy towards Ukraine and has managed to get itself exempted from the EU oil embargo on Russia. Orban, like all EU leaders, initially condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, he has maintained ties with Russian officials, even sending his Foreign Minister to Moscow to negotiate for more gas imports. Orban still refuses to supply Ukraine with weapons, and he is the only EU leader to openly criticize President Volodymyr Zelensky and often refer to him as an opponent. 

During his speech at Băile Tuşnad, Orban attacked the EU’s strategy on Ukraine, saying that sanctions against Russia havefailed and urging EU and Western leaders to stop their military support of the Ukrainian government, admonishingthem instead to bring in a new strategy. “The more modern weapons NATO gives the Ukrainians, the more the Russians will push the frontline forward … What we are doing is prolonging the war,” said Orbán during his speech on Saturday 23 July.

According to Orban, the US-UK-EU strategy on Ukraine was doomed to fail on so many levels. Starting with the delusional assumption that Ukraine can win a war against Russia with NATO weapons, Orban said that Ukraine will never win the war this way "quite simply because the Russian army has asymmetrical dominance."

On the question of sanctions, the West assumed that they will lead to a weakened Russia and destabilize Putin’s government, that sanctions would hurt Russia more than Europe, and that the world would line up in support of Europe. But, according to Orban, that did not happen and during the same speech he said we will see the downfall of the West as war continues, saying the current strategy is a failure and governments in EU are falling “like dominos.”  

Orbán dismissed the EU Commission's energy plans, saying that the EU executive wants to take energy away from those who have it, instead of telling Germany not to shut down its nuclear power plants. He argued that the US is pushing Europeans to buy its energy resources. 

He continued saying that the EU “shot itself in the lungs” by trying to cut itself off from Russia. He made this observation in the context of EU’s dependency on Russian natural gas, which accounted to 40% last year.

According to the International Energy Agency (IAE), in 2020Germany was Europe’s largest importer of Russian gas. The figures from the IAE show Russian gas exports to countries inbillions of cubic meters – with Germany topping the list at 42.6, followed by Italy 29.2, Belarus 18.9, Turkey 16.2 and Netherlands 15.7.

Hungary is on 6th place with 11.6, meaning approximately 65% of its oil and 85% of its gas requirements come from the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom corporation. Orban’s government is vigorously refusing to block Russian gas, a measure which,according to officials in Budapest, would totally cripple Hungary’s economy. 

The UK imported just 4% of its needs from Russia, and it is important to point out that the US does not import any gas from Russia. 

As the Russian war in Ukraine continues, we have seen more regular briefings coming from EU policymakers preparing the public for dire conditions this winter if gas supplies from Russia are completely cut. Officials from Germany and other EU member states have begun to talk openly and urgently about the need for immediate reductions in consumption in advance of the peak winter heating season. They have also started to plan publicly for compulsory allocation, including rationing and prioritization among industrial users, as well as sharing among member states in the event there is not enough gas to supply everyone.

Orban Calls for an Implementation of a New Strategy “Peace Talks”

While the sanctions have hurt Russia’s economy, they have also helped drive up global energy prices, slowing the EU and the USeconomies and pushing them toward recession. 

During his speech in Romania, Orban said the EU and the US need to take a new approach for dealing with Russia and the war.“A new strategy is needed which should focus on peace talks and drafting a good peace proposal ... instead of winning the war,” Orban said in a speech in Romania on July 23.

A strategy that fosters dialogue and negotiation – one that focuses not on siding with the Ukrainians, but rather positions itselfbetween both Kyiv and Moscow. The goal should not be about Ukraine’s winning the war but rather bringing about a peaceful solution. 

Orban reiterated his country will not support the war efforts in Ukraine and emphasized that his country’s economy reliesheavily on Russian gas imports. He refuses to support embargoes on Russian gas imports. Orban says since Russia wants security guarantees, talks should be held between Washington and Moscow, not Ukraine. According to him,"Only Russian-U.S. talks can put an end to the conflict because Russia wants security guarantees” which only Washington can give.

Here, Orbán, echoing the Russian official rhetoric, said the reason for the war against Ukraine is that the West refused to negotiate on Russian security guarantees. He went further to say that if Donald Trump and Angela Merkel had still been in office, the war would not have happened. 

Viktor Orbán has been in power since 2010 making him the longest serving prime minister in Europe. Back in April 2022, he won his fourth straight election and promised to protect Hungarians from the effects of the war. 

The bitter winter is only a few months away and there areserious concerns that Putin may turn off the gas taps in the EU, leaving millions of citizens in the EU to bear the heavy brunt of the sharp rise in the cost of living. For Ukrainians and many in the EU, Orban is a betrayer.  However, for many in Hungary he is a realist and a pragmatic leader who puts his people’s interests first. 

The question is whether the bitter winter and the continuedrise of living costs in the EU will keep the bloc united or we are going to see more countries normalizing their ties with Russia.

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