In a tight spot: Orbán’s Hungary between Russia and the European Union

The last time I talked about the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the the Ukrainian crisis was at the beginning of March when, most likely as a result of Polish urging, Hungarian foreign minister János Martonyi joined his Visegrád 4 colleagues and condemned Russian action in the Crimea. Soon enough, Zsolt Németh, undersecretary in the ministry, called in the Russian ambassador to express Hungary’s disapproval of Russian aggression. By that point I thought that Hungary would remain resolute in defense of Ukraine. But something happened between March 4 and 18, when Hungary retreated from its earlier position.

The Council of the European Union released a statement in which it stated that “the EU does not recognize the illegal ‘referendum’ and its outcome.” The EU and the U.S. agreed to impose sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials considered responsible for the referendum. Sanctioning would proceed in three stages, with the final stage including economic sanctions.

In an interview with CNN on March 18 János Martonyi indicated that Hungary would be a very reluctant participant in any action against Putin’s Russia. If an economic conflict were to develop between the EU and Russia, “one of the EU national economies hit most would be Hungary due to its vulnerability to energy supplies.” A few days later Viktor Orbán claimed that they checked all the numbers and indeed Hungary would be a huge loser if economic sanctions were leveled against Russia.

In fact, it seems that Hungary is one of the three most reluctant EU members when it comes to taking a stance against Russian aggression. The other two countries are Greece and Cyprus. Both Greece and Hungary depend on Russia for about 50% of their energy needs while Cyprus, though it doesn’t need Russian gas, does want its oligarchs’ money. As Judy Dempsey, the well-known journalist, remarked, “Cyprus’s reluctance is linked to its status as a lucrative parking place for Russian money.” In the same article she stated that “East Europeans aren’t united either. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who recently signed a major nuclear energy contract with Russia, has played down the entire Ukraine crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In contrast, the Baltic states are so afraid of their giant neighbor’s appetite that they are taking a tough line despite a total dependence on Russian gas.” (For a complete list of the EU member states and their respective attitudes toward Russian sanctions, take a look at the chart in Judy Dempsey’s article.)

Well, there is playing down and playing down. At the outbreak of the crisis Viktor Orbán announced that “Hungary is not part of the conflict.” Just before the March 6 summit Orbán released a statement in which he made no reference to Russia at all. He announced that the topic in Brussels will naturally be Ukraine but added that “for us the most important consideration is the security of Hungarians in Subcarpathia.” It is “from this viewpoint that we look at the events. By sending the foreign minister to Subcarpathia we wanted to make sure that the Hungarians there know that they can count on us.”

Last Thursday Orbán had a chance to talk with Angela Merkel before the start of the summit. The meeting, in the presence of Péter Szijjártó, lasted half an hour during which, I’m certain, Orbán wanted to convince Merkel to refrain from additional sanctions. Originally 21 Russian and Ukrainian individuals were barred from entering the EU and their bank accounts were frozen. It seems that Orbán wasn’t persuasive enough because Merkel, who was keen on adding 11 more persons to the list, managed to convince her colleagues to embark on the second stage of sanctions against Russia. After the meetings Orbán announced to Hungarian journalists that the issue of Paks didn’t come up. In his usual cocky manner he announced that “there is nothing to discuss in this connection. It is a closed issue.”

In the end Orbán, representing Hungary, signed the agreement that cites Ukraine’s desire to become part of the European Union sometime in the future. The Hungarian prime minister made it clear, however, that minority rights in Ukraine are his primary concern. If the language law that would have curtailed the free use of Hungarian in Subcarpathia had been enacted, he wouldn’t have signed the document. He added that the Ukrainians must conduct a meticulous nationality policy and that at the same time the Ukrainian government must restrain the nationalistic far-right elements within the country.

He then turned to his ideas about the most desirable source of energy, which in his opinion is nuclear power. In this respect, he is following the lead of Great Britain. And that takes me to a newly published article on CNBC’s website by Javier E. David. The author argues that “the new Cold War brewing between Russia and the U.S. has the potential to go nuclear–just not in the conventional sense.” As a result of the Ukrainian crisis, a debate developed as to whether the United States can use natural gas to counter Russia’s global ambitions. But “some experts say the real front in the global energy battle lies not in oil and gas, but in the arena of nuclear technology.” According to the World Nuclear Association, Rosatom is building 37 percent of the new atomic facilities currently under construction worldwide.

nuclear2

The article cites Barbara Judge, former chairperson of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, who describes the situation as follows: “The Russians view nuclear as an excellent export product. . . . They are using it as part of their plan to establish themselves as a geopolitical power.”  How do they achieve this? By lending poorer countries money. “Countries that need nuclear often do not have the funds to pay for it.” By financially helping these countries purchase nuclear technology, Russia “is using that money as a lever to open the door.”

It is because of these considerations that Viktor Orbán might be mistaken and that, after all, the case of Paks might not be closed.

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Paul
Guest

“at the same time the Ukrainian government must restrain the nationalistic far-right elements within the country.”

Just like he has in Hungary.

Ron
Guest

Currently, the World Meeting is taking place on a nuclear summit in the Netherlands. It is mentioned in the press that the Summit is considering a “dirty” bomb as a major threat. Although it is not clear whether they talk about a nuclear bomb or VO.

In another article (in Dutch) Ukraine apparently criminalized Ukrainians having two nationalities. Most Ukrainian Hungarians or Hungarian Ukrainians are afraid for being arrested. (In Dutch) http://www.scribblesfromhungary.com/2014/03/de-krim-is-ver-weg-voor-oekraiense.html

An
Guest

@Ron: You mean they criminalized having a dual citizenship, right?

Ron
Guest

An :
@Ron: You mean they criminalized having a dual citizenship, right?

Yep.

Paul
Guest

News today that Nato’s military commander is concerned about the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukraine border. With Trans-Dniester talking about holding a referendum to become part of Russia, his fear is that the Russian will move troops into Trans-Dniester, as they did with Crimea. And of course to do that, they have to cross Ukrainian territory.

Although, looking at the map, I can’t see how a massing of troops on the Ukraine/Russia border could help such an invasion, as the obvious route to Trans-Dniester would be via sea/air from Crimea – crossing the minimum of Ukrainian territory.

But if Putin does do something insane like that (or occupy Ukraine’s eastern region to ‘protect his fellow Russians from the threat of the fascist government in Kiev” – which I fear is more likely), it will be interesting to see how Orbán responds.

The West will not be able to do anything to stop either of these events, but Putin will have crossed a pretty serious line if he does invade, and the US and the EU will have to take a very serious stance against Russia. There will be no wriggle room for Orbán in that situation.

Member
Russia already has troops in Trans-Dniester and has had since 1992 or so under the ceasefire agreement which ended the fighting when the region separated itself from Moldova proper. With troops already on the ground the Trans-Dniester issue will be more about whether Russia will both strengthen its local garrison and also about whether it will use them for further meddling. There are 2 points where this meddling can occur. Firstly in Ukraine, Trans-Dniester is about 30 miles away from Odessa, which is Ukraine’s biggest port and a city which has a large Russian community and a history as a majority Russian city. Will Putin’s troops try to turn Odessa into the next Crimea? There are already rival demonstartions taking place in the city. The second place where Trans-Dneister can be used for Russian interference is in Moldova itself. After all, virtually every state in the world still recognises Trans-Dneister as being part of Moldova. The Russians appear to be funding Gauguz nationalism in southern Moldova. Moldova is, like Ukaraine, a former USSR republic which is torn between Europe and Russia and geographically and economically it is a very poor and small county and therefore would be virtually defenceless before… Read more »
petofi
Guest

The last time I heard of the Russians building something for a foreign power was the building in Moscow they built to be used by the US embassy…a residence or something like that. Anyway, it was so full of listening devices that the building had to be given up. So I guess,
our friendly Russkiy builders may input a few things into the reactors and it won’t be listening devices.

I can’t think of one country that has tied itself up with the Russians and thought well of it.
I remember when the Egyptians traded the American backers for Russians, and quickly gave that up after a year or so.

Mike
Guest
The root cause of the tragedy of Hungarian Jewry was their delusional belief that by the act of emancipation in 1867 they could and would in fact become part of the Hungarian “nation”. Despite everything that happened since, this same delusion continues to permeate the ranks of much of remnant Jewry in Hungary to this day. In the nineteenth century, this Jewish delusion was also fueled by the fact that the Hungarian “nation” was in fact a multi-ethnic Hungarian language community comprised largely of people of germanic, slavic, romanian, turkic and other ethnic origin who adopted Hungarian as their language after the Hungarian language reforms in the early 19th century. In contrast, remnants of the original Hungarians who claimed for themselves the Carpathian basin a thousand years before, were very few and far between by the time the idea of the modern Hungarian state arose as part of the East European awakening subsequent to the French Revolution. Thus Jews easily deluded themselves that they could and would in fact be accepted as just another local ethnic group that adopted the Hungarian language and the idea of becoming citizens of what was to become an ultimately independent Hungarian state. This worked… Read more »
moldovan
Guest

Orban’s concern with the ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine is a sham.

Fidesz does not care about them, it wants them to seek the Hungarian citizenship, vote for Fidesz and perhaps to move to Hungary (and continue to be a Fidesz-loyal person). That is their assigned role.

This issue is just a cover to have a plausible denial why Hungary will not get tough on Russia like the Baltic countries or Poland do. And Western leaders probably swallow this too.

The bottom line is about the hundreds of billions of HUF Orban, Simicska and others would gain if Paks would go ahead. (and once Paks 2 is built we will need the Danube dams, which is another bonanza for the oligarchs).

Orban will not give up Paks, ever.

Naive Westerners can think whatever they want, but Orban will take advantage of them and just build Paks. They will be long gone and Orban and Putin will still be there doing there businesses.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Ron :

An :
@Ron: You mean they criminalized having a dual citizenship, right?

Yep.

Too much Russian propaganda can seriously damage your health.

http://fakecontrol.org/en/blog/2014/03/03/second-passport/

petofi
Guest

How long can our hero stand the oppression of Hungarians in Romania before he offers them a vote to join Hungary?

Porfirii
Guest
Russia will soon invade the East and South of Ukraine, most likely occupying parts of Moldova too thereby cutting the remainder of Ukraine from its access to the Black Sea as well as taking away its industrial base (currently located in the Eastern part of Ukraine). However, nothing will change as far as the EU and Russia are concerned since Europe (Germany, Hungary etc.) will still be dependent on Russian gas and oil. And nothing’s gonna change that. As a result, no real sanction will ever be issued against Russia. People in the West will soon realize that it’s only the Ukrainians, and who the f**k are they anyway? Oh, it turns out they are the Little Russians (kisoroszok in archaic Hungarian language), so kind of Russians. So it’s an internal dispute between various Slavs (origin: slaves) and thus it is not the West’s problem to get involved in these games. Thus Orban will lough a lot with his pal Putin in the coming years and they together will build this new pride of Hungary and that of Russian technology. The West believed the mythology it created about soft power, the end of history and if we all have Twitter… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Election.

Now I can understand why the opposition does not have any campaign.

The campaign manager of MSzP used to work for Fidesz.

http://www.origo.hu/valasztas2014/20140322-a-fidesz-jogi-segitoje-volt-molnar-zsolt-az-mszp-kampanyfonoke.html

Guest

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

Ron :

An :
@Ron: You mean they criminalized having a dual citizenship, right?

Yep.

Too much Russian propaganda can seriously damage your health.
http://fakecontrol.org/en/blog/2014/03/03/second-passport/

I recommend everybody to read the link. It describes a text book example of Russian disinformation.
Quote from a comment: “- What is new is the incredible intensity (of disinformation). I’ve never seen anything like it. …”
It seems that the author of the comment is not familiar with the intensity of disinformation in Hungary.

petermarton
Guest

tappanch :
Election.
Now I can understand why the opposition does not have any campaign.
The campaign manager of MSzP used to work for Fidesz.
http://www.origo.hu/valasztas2014/20140322-a-fidesz-jogi-segitoje-volt-molnar-zsolt-az-mszp-kampanyfonoke.html

What about Együtt and DK and PM?

My prediction is that Fidesz will only exceed the results of the united Left by a couple of percentage points in the party list segment.

But in order for the Left to prevail overall it would have to lead over Fidesz by some 6-8 % points in the party list segment.

Anyway, it may be better for Fidesz to win now with a small percentage (from where it can only go downhill) then for the divided Left to get to power now. I don’t think Fidesz will have more than 37-39% of the party list votes, its victory will be based on trickery and it will soon be clear to everybody.

tappanch
Guest

Consumer Confidence Index by gki.hu

local minimum 2009-04 @ -72
local maximum 2010-10 @ -21

local minimum 2012-01 @ -57
local maximum 2014-03 @ -16

http://www.gki.hu/sites/default/files/users/Petz%20Raymund/GKI_konj_1403.pdf

HiBoM
Guest

@petermarton, do you really think that the united Left is going to do that well? I hope you are right but from my own circle of acquaintances, what is deeply disappointing is that friends who in the past did vote for the “Left” in 2002 and 2006 and who were disillusioned in 2010, are simply not voting this year. I’m bracing myself for a parliament where perhaps only 15% of the MPs are from the non-Fidesz and Jobbik side of the spectrum.

tappanch
Guest

Zhirinovsky of Russia would give Carpatho-Ukraine to Hungary at a division of Ukraine:

http://444.hu/2014/03/24/igy-osztana-fel-ukrajnat-egy-orosz-politikus/

tappanch
Guest

The Ukraine is going to withdraw its remaining troops from the Crimea, says acting president Turchinov.

http://zn.ua/UKRAINE/snbo-poruchil-provesti-peredislokaciyu-ukrainskih-voennyh-podrazdeleniy-nahodyaschihsya-v-krymu-141809_.html

petermarton
Guest

Hibom: yes, that is certainly a possibility, but I referred to the party list segment, which most clearly shows party popularity to any observer.

In the gerrymendered districts, ethnic minority list etc. Fidesz will win big time, so its overall number of mandates in the Parliament will be huge for sure.

But I still believe that Fidesz’ party list results will only be 2-3 points over those of the Left, something like 38% Fidesz, 36% Left, 18% Jobbik, 7% LMP, 1% others. So the results will show how distorted the system is.

I still think that despite the GKI-Erste confidence index referred to by tappanch people are very frustrated and discontent all over Hungary (of course many still vote for Fidesz like those in Western Hungary).

At least this is how I think results will turn out, based on my current interpretation of the circumstances.

Guest

A bit OT:

Yesterday we saw and heard above our house the return of the first plane that brought almost 200 tourists from Moscow to the Hévíz-Balaton airport. It’s supposed to return every sunday …
http://www.bbj.hu/business/first-moscow-to-heviz-flight-lands_77475

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
In fact, it seems that Hungary is one of the three most reluctant EU members when it comes to taking a stance against Russian aggression. The other two countries are Greece and Cyprus.

Bratislava and Sofia don’t seem very keen either.

tappanch
Guest

The second largest commercial television, recently sold to unknown owners (Fidesz oligarchs) continues to broadcast Fidesz propaganda disguised as “government announcements” in spite of a Supreme Court order to stop the practice.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140324_kormany_kampany_tv2_kuria

Vadai of DK:
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140324_Lehet_itt_Fideszpropagandat_nyomni__Vad

Bülbül
Guest

Welsz was almost certainly an official secret service employee, who by the way committed numerous felonies — all with the tacit or more likely active support of his employer/colleagues. That is clear to anybody with an IQ over 70.

I don’t understand why MSZP doesn’t dare to be tougher about this issue. It is an outrageous part of this saga. Szanyi and Molnar are both very wishy-washy.

But then again MSZP is bunch of wusses and they are scared s**tless by the Fidesz-state security complex.

Ovidiu
Guest

tappanch :
Zhirinovsky of Russia would give Carpatho-Ukraine to Hungary at a division of Ukraine:
http://444.hu/2014/03/24/igy-osztana-fel-ukrajnat-egy-orosz-politikus/

Zhirinovsky is trolling as usual.

petofi
Guest

tappanch :
Election.
Now I can understand why the opposition does not have any campaign.
The campaign manager of MSzP used to work for Fidesz.
http://www.origo.hu/valasztas2014/20140322-a-fidesz-jogi-segitoje-volt-molnar-zsolt-az-mszp-kampanyfonoke.html

Like I said, a rigged game. Mesterhazy is a trojan used to mislead Bajnai.

Istvan
Guest
I have posted repeatedly on the dynamics of the Ukraine situation and the overall confused response to the Russian seizure of Crimea. Having been in the US Army I was very aware of the tactical position on NATO in relation to armed Russian invasion of NATO territory, and of course the Ukraine is not a member of NATO. But it was always assumed NATO’s response would be to use tactical nuclear weapons against Russian troops, most Hungarians I suspect were not aware of this stance when Hungary joined NATO. Putin is fully aware of this stance and knows that NATO has only about 30,000 troops it can rapidly deploy. Really only Poland and Lithuania have on a military level made a show of mobilization in the current situation. The Germans have repeatedly reduced military expenditures and have even reduced the size of their Air Force. Ultimately if the economic actions against Russia have an effect there will be military consequences. Russia is in an expansionist mode and will move forward with Eurasian economic zone at the point of a bayonet if needed. Orban is trying to play a classic Hungarian game of playing off great powers to the advantage of… Read more »
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