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BUDAPEST – Viktor Orban wants Ukraine to surrender.
As Ukrainian flags fly across European capitals and Western tanks come to Ukraine’s rescue, the Prime Minister of Hungary publicly questions Ukraine’s viability as a sovereign state. In Budapest, his government lined the streets with anti-sanctions billboards. The Hungarian State Opera hosts a production of Sergei Prokofiev’s “War and Peace”.
Russia, Urban recently Tell An eclectic group of conservative foreign figures has already managed to make Ukraine an unmanageable wreck.
“It’s Afghanistan now,” Orban said during a roundtable discussion. described in the American Conservative. He said that Vladimir Putin will not lose and time is on Russia’s side, describing Ukraine as “nobody’s land”.
It’s a message almost diametrically opposed to the rhetoric flying around the rest of the Western alliance, which last week breached another red line when it pledged to give Ukraine dozens of modern tanks. It increases tensions between Hungary and neighboring Ukraine. Orban’s remarks angered Ukrainian officials, who said they would recall Hungary’s ambassador.
Back in Budapest, Orbán’s approach is seen in part as a domestic political ploy to deflect attention from Hungary’s economic woes, as well as a nod to nationalist voters. But there is also a sense among experts that Orban’s rhetoric is about more than short-term politics — the Hungarian leader, they say, wants to preserve his longstanding relationship with the Kremlin.
Either way, the fallout illustrates the growing gulf between Orban and the rest of his EU and NATO allies.
“Political leaders in Hungary’s government often talk about promoting peace, but – from condemning sanctions to embracing Russian ‘cease-fire’ proposals – continue to push the policies endorsed by Putin,” said David Pressman, the US ambassador to Budapest.
“We join the Hungarian government’s call for peace, but those calls must be addressed to Vladimir Putin,” he said in an emailed statement, adding that Washington “will continue to call for an end to this war by standing firm with its victims.”
But while the majority of Western allies moved to offer Ukraine taboo-breaking support, Hungary doubled down on its position that Kyiv should simply stop fighting.
“Our elementary humanity and our moral sense,” Urban Tell The official broadcast on Friday, “demands that we do everything in our power to freeze the front line, in order for there to be a ceasefire and for the start of negotiations.”
Experts say Orban is not anti-Ukrainian – his rhetoric is just an attempt to play both sides and win political points at home.
The prime minister has spent years implementing a dual foreign policy: enjoying 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 had tried to woo invaded neighboring Hungary, Orbán condemned the invasion—but he did not completely abandon his pro-Russian stance.
Hungary still moving forward With the nuclear power plant expansion project in partnership with Russia’s Rosatom. Hungarian officials continue to travel to Russia to discuss energy deals. country that relies heavily on Russian gas, Occurred A deal for more supplies last summer – just as others were seeking to cut their imports.
And while Budapest agreed to EU sanctions packages, Orban sought to ease some provisions. Meanwhile, back home, he was running a wide-ranging anti-sanctions campaign blaming Brussels for Hungary’s economic woes.
“Orban has invested a lot” in his Russia-friendly policies, said Peter Kreko, director of the Capital Political Institute, a think tank that specializes in Hungarian foreign policy.
“There is a lethargy that leads him in this direction,” he said. “It seems that [the] The government is not really able to right these wrongs.”
There’s history there, too
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 invasion began — not to mention his recent comments — has only served to deepen those tensions.
“This is unfortunately clear Russian rhetoric,” said Ivana Klimbusch-Tsintsad, chair of the Verkhovna Rada’s Committee on Integration into the European Union, when asked about Orban’s recent comments.
“Hungary has always been an enemy of freedom,” she said in a text message. “We are surprised that galactic data and activities” have not yet received an adequate response from within, she added [the] European Union and NATO”.
Critics of the prime minister have been quick to distance themselves from the government’s approach to Ukraine, arguing that Orbán does not represent all Hungarians.
“Orban’s comment is beyond shame,” said Hungarian MP Katalin Cheh, who recently returned from a trip to Kyiv with other members of the opposition Momentum party.
She said Ukraine was “a land of brave freedom fighters and their fellow Europeans, who deserve our utmost respect”.
The Hungarian government did not respond to requests for comment. But the Hungarian foreign ministry insisted the government had good intentions.
In response to Kyiv’s decision to summon the ministry to its ambassador Tell A pro-government outlet that the war is killing and turning parts of Ukraine into a “wasteland”.
For this reason, the ministry said, “Hungary wants peace and an immediate ceasefire instead of handing over weapons.”
Saying what he thinks others won’t
Experts say the prime minister’s rhetoric on Ukraine is due in part to an early miscalculation about the course of the conflict.
“The government was betting on a quick resolution to the conflict and hoped Hungary would benefit from maintaining its relationship with Russia,” said Zeliki Csaki, a fellow at the European University Institute.
“It’s clear some believe Hungary can become a kind of ‘bridge’ between Russia and the rest of Europe and reap trade and other benefits in the meantime,” she said, adding that “it’s now clear that’s not going to happen.”
Hungarians who know the prime minister well personally say part of the explanation for Orban’s controversial comments is that the politician has long liked to speak out on issues he thinks other leaders are too shy to tackle.
“I think he is doing this because he believes that this is what many Europeans actually believe — and he expects that in the end Europe will not side with Ukraine,” said Zsuzana Zelenyi, who was a member of Orban’s Fidesz party in the early 1990s and is now a critic of the government.
In his discussion with foreign conservatives, Orbán hinted at his belief that some politicians might secretly agree with him.
“Germans suffer because they know what is in their national interest, but they cannot say it,” he said.
But there is also a sense in Budapest that Orban often criticizes the West’s response to the war because business circles close to the ruling party still benefit from economic ties with Moscow – and because he wants to advance his case for opposing sanctions.
Zuzanna Weg, a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said the prime minister is “essentially seeking a justification for opposing any further sanctions that might really start to hurt its relations with Moscow.”
Orban’s rhetoric also plays well with a segment of his electorate.
“You have a tradition of anti-Western sentiment, and you also have a tradition of anti-Russian sentiments,” Kreko said of the political capital in Hungarian Nationalist History.
He added that the anti-Western approach now “outperforms” the anti-Russian sentiment.
But Orban has always been pragmatic, and clearly tries to keep his options open.
Szelényi, who recently wrote A book On Orbán’s “tainted” democracy, he noted, the prime minister also made unfavorable comments about Russia.
She said Orban was “basically creating room for maneuver for himself in this crisis”.
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