December 9, 2019

Hungary and Russia

A New Stage of Partnership Against Ukraine


Ivan Sichen

…Again, the “second front” has been opened against us. Because how else can one comment on Russia and Hungary's another attack on Ukraine? Having united, they opposed our state, and, in fact, the European Union. This is clearly evidenced by the new “series” of Moscow and Budapest's coordinated actions in the political and informational sphere aimed at putting pressure on both Ukraine and its Western partners on the eve of the meeting of the leaders of the “Normandy Four” in Paris on December 9, 2019.

Other media and we have repeatedly reported what and why they do this, although this has been almost common knowledge for a long time. Why “almost”? Because the statements of some Ukrainian politicians and experts show that they either do not understand the real state of affairs or are moving in line with Russian propaganda. So it will not be superfluous to refer again to the above-mentioned topic.

Thus, contrary to the Kremlin's statements that Western sanctions are “not felt” in Russia, the socio-economic situation there is rather complicated and there is no chance of its improvement. This has led to a significant downgrade of the Russian leadership's rating, which has fallen to a minimum since the early 2000s.

…Moscow is trying to undermine the unanimity of the EU on the Ukrainian issue and thus gain the support of other countries for joint pressure on our country…

Moreover, the consciousness of Russian citizens has changed fundamentally, the vast majority of whom are already demanding today to adjust the Kremlin's policy, including to end the confrontment with the West and confrontation with Ukraine, which directly contradicts Putin's strategy. All this cannot help undermining the position of the Russian rulers, and threatens its very existence. Under such circumstances, further development of the conflict in the Donbas in its current form not only does not suit Moscow. It becomes a very serious problem for it. Although Russia is in no way abandoning its plans for Ukraine, trying to impose its own and, on favorable terms, options for resolving the Donbas conflict. At this, given Ukraine's intransigence within the framework of its “red lines”, Moscow is trying to undermine the unanimity of the EU on the Ukrainian issue and thus gain the support of other countries for joint pressure on our country. Recently, among such European “allies” of Russia, there stands out Hungary, as a result of the dual, populist policy of its current authorities, led by Prime Minister V. Orban.

Thus, on the one hand, the official Budapest enjoys all the rights of an EU member, but on the other, it sabotages the European Union's decisions on a number of important issues. In particular, it is the Hungarian leadership's refusal to comply with the requirements of Brussels to optimize EU member states' budget expenditures or to meet the quotas for refugees arriving from conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. The internal policy of V. Orban, who began to harass his political opponents, including the oppression of the opposition and the press, is also not in line with EU standards. Even the facts of the misuse of the EU loans are known and, in fact, their theft by Hungarian authorities.

Among European “allies” of Russia, there stands out Hungary, as a result of the dual policy of its current authorities
Among European “allies” of Russia, there stands out Hungary, as a result of the dual policy of its current authorities

As expected, Budapest's position has elicited a corresponding backlash from EU leadership imposing sanctions on the Hungarian government. In the financial and economic sphere included. Moscow, in its turn, uses this for its political ends, giving Hungary various economic preferences in exchange for supporting its actions in Europe, in particular with regard to Ukraine. This is exactly what Russia did when it organized a comprehensive campaign of pressure on Ukraine in November–December 2019, forcing our state to agree with the Russian version of the so-called Steinmeier Formula (involves our state's recognizing the “DPR” and “LPR” without regaining control of its eastern border and without withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories).

…Moscow is giving Hungary various economic preferences in exchange for supporting its actions in Europe, in particular with regard to Ukraine…

Such an operation began with Russia's attempt to discredit Ukraine and reaffirm Crimea's “belonging” to Russia at the UN Forum on Minority Issues on November 28–29, 2019. To this end, the Russian delegation to the UN included representatives of the pro-Russian part of the Crimean Tatars, who were to make a speech there. However, it is known that the Ukrainian delegation managed to prevent this.

Moscow in turn immediately “threw in the battle” Hungary. For example, the Russian media started an active information campaign, claiming that the Hungarian parliament had allegedly addressed the Russian State Duma, calling for a joint effort to “protect the rights of national minorities in Ukraine”. However, the Hungarian government at the official level has denied such a fact, which is quite understandable. Of course, Budapest, as a member of NATO and the EU, cannot just so directly support Moscow's provocations. However, the principle “if one wants very much, then why not to?” was later demonstrated by the Hungarian authorities.

Thus, at the NATO Summit sidelines on December 4–6, 2019, Hungary's Foreign Minister P. Szijjarto publicly confirmed Budapest's intentions to further block talks on Ukraine's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty for “violating the rights of the Hungarian minority on the Ukrainian territory”. Moreover, besides the claims on the language issue, Ukraine was presented with further requirements for granting autonomy to the Hungarians in the Ukrainian Trans-Carpathian region.

If this is not a support to Moscow's strategic goals of preventing Ukraine's accession to NATO, as well as its disintegration under the guise of federalization, then what is this? Especially if we remember Hungary's actual approval of the RF State Duma Speaker V. Volodin's statement about “the possibility of some more regions' disintegrating from Ukraine if the latter continues to oppress national minorities”.

It is indicative that all such steps, both by Russia and Hungary, were taken on the eve of the Normandy talks at the highest level. At this, the UN Forum and the NATO Summit were just reasons for Russia to conduct an operation to influence Ukraine over the “settlement” of the Donbas conflict on Russian terms.

Chairman of the Board of the Russian Gazprom V. Zubkov with Hungarian Foreign Minister P. Szijjarto
Chairman of the Board of the Russian Gazprom V. Zubkov with Hungarian Foreign Minister P. Szijjarto

However, the interaction of Russia and Hungary against Ukraine and the EU is not limited to the examples just cited. On the eve of the Normandy meeting, Moscow brought into “battle” its “heavy artillery” in the form of energy “weapon”. More specifically, it promised Hungary not only new gas supply benefits, but also larger transit volumes to Hungarian territory through the new Turkish Stream pipeline. That is, not just for the devil of it, but in exchange for promoting Russian interests in the energy sphere.

It is resolving these issues that was the main aim of the visit to Hungary on December 2, 2019, of Chairman of the Board of the Russian Gazprom V. Zubkov as V. Putin's personal envoy. And the very next day, Hungarian Foreign Minister P. Szijjarto dared to make an open demarche against the EU. To begin with, he promised to block EU sanctions against Russia if Brussels impedes Hungary's deepening energy co-operation with Russia. Which, by the way, is supposed to establish another way of transporting gas bypassing Ukraine.

What can I add here? Unfortunately, Budapest has been playing the role of Moscow's satellite, especially lately. And it will remain one in the future. But despite all that is being said about the new leadership of Ukraine, it will in no way surrender the strategic interests of our country — neither on the Donbas issues, nor in the desire to join NATO and the EU.

…But, as the saying goes, “at length the fox is brought to the furrier”. The same can be said about the regimes of V. Orban in Hungary and V. Putin in Russia. They are losing their power rapidly. This is evidenced by the defeat of V. Orban's party in the local elections in Hungary in October 2019, not to mention the mass protests against the policy of the current authorities, which took place in early 2019.

…V. Orban's government does support Russia. However, like other countries in the region, it fears its aggression…

And to sum this up, I should point out another interesting aspect. Yes, V. Orban's government does support Russia. However, like other countries in the region, it fears its aggression, so it is actively involved in NATO's activity. For example, in the territory of Hungary there will be deployed the main task group of the US combat aviation in Central and Eastern Europe. To this end, a number of Hungarian airfields have been modernized. And in 2019, as NATO continued to strengthen its military presence in Central and Eastern Europe, it was decided to deploy one of the NATO's multinational divisions in Hungary.

This is not only one of the evidences of Budapest's dual policy, but also a guarantee that Hungary will not return under Russian control or influence. So things are not all that bad, as they might seem.