Putin’s visit: “Strategic impetus” for future Russian-Hungarian relations?

Yesterday the Russian ambassador to Hungary, Vladimir Sergeyev, when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Hungary, basically repeated what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been telling the Hungarians in the last few days. Putin’s visit to Budapest is nothing out of the ordinary. The main topic of the talks will be “the extension of a long-term contract” that will ensure the uninterrupted flow of natural gas from Russia to Hungary. The contract is due to expire this year, hence the urgency of the negotiations. Sergeyev emphasized that Putin’s visit has nothing whatsoever to do with “the overall situation in the world and the tension we now observe.” In addition to energy questions, the two leaders will discuss “cooperation in tourism and culture.” All this sounds utterly innocent until we get to the last sentence: that the talks are designed “to give a strategic impetus” to the future development of relations.

Viktor Orbán, although he is usually quite tight-mouthed, also indicated, perhaps unwittingly, that “over and above the question of energy, we must strive for a truly balanced relation. That’s why we invited and welcome President Putin.” These sentences indicate that the conversations will go beyond economic relations. Suspicion is growing in Budapest that the “urgent issue of the gas supply from Russia” is only an excuse for a visit by the Russian president. The real reason is what Ambassador Sergeyev called a “strategic impetus” for closer relations between the two countries. And that is a political, not an economic issue.

Let’s return briefly to Lajos Simicska, the oligarch to whom Viktor Orbán owes his rise to power but who is no longer Orbán’s friend. In his interview with Magyar Narancs Simicska told the reporter that after the April elections he had a long conversation with Viktor Orbán, during which the prime minister outlined his “plans,” which Simicska did not like. Among other things, Orbán shared his views of Russian-Hungarian relations, which Simicska found odious. He expressed his disapproval of Orbán’s scheme, saying: “No, I don’t like it at all. I grew up at the time when the Soviet Union was still here and I don’t have pleasant memories of the activities of the Russians in Hungary. I can’t really see any difference between the behavior of the former Soviets and the political behavior of today’s Russians.” I am sure that Simicska’s anti-Russian feelings are genuine. He was known for his intense dislike of the Soviets even as a high school student. This antipathy most likely had something to do with his father’s involvement in the Revolution of 1956 and the reprisals the family suffered as a result. If his old friend Viktor had talked to him only about economic ties and a secure supply of gas, surely Simicska wouldn’t have reacted so negatively.

A Romanian view: "Putin will visit Hungary: A challenge to the United States Source: Independent.md

A Romanian view: “Putin will visit Hungary: A challenge to the United States”
Source: Independent.md

No, it is becoming clear that the urgent negotiations about a long-term gas contract are only a smokescreen. Although it is true that the current agreement will expire at the end of June, the flow of gas will not stop. According to the present contract, Gazprom is obliged to supply gas to Hungary for at least two more years. Perhaps three. Fifteen years ago, when the contract was signed, energy consumption was higher than it is now. The contract specified a certain amount of natural gas between 2000 and 2015, but that amount hasn’t been used up. So why is this deal suddenly so important to Orbán? Why does he think that he will be able to get the best deal from Gazprom thanks to Putin’s good offices? What did Orbán promise to Putin in exchange for cheap gas? Will he get cheap gas and, if so, at what price? Will Rossatom’s building of the two new reactors at Paks be enough for Putin in return? Or will Orbán be ready to sell or rent the storage facilities he purchased earlier from the German firm E-On to Gazprom? Most important, why is Orbán so keen on a special deal with Gazprom when by now Russia’s monopoly on the gas supply to Europe is broken?

Some observers even claim that it is not to Hungary’s advantage to sign a long-term contract with Russia because the current market price of natural gas is actually lower than what Hungary is paying for Russian gas. Hungary is paying between $350 and $400 for 1,000m³ of gas; on the open market it sells for $300. Moreover, as I already noted, Russia’s gas monopoly is a thing of the past. By now there are alternate pipelines through which western gas can reach Hungary. Although it is true that the completion of the pipeline between Slovakia and Hungary has been delayed due to technical problems on the Hungarian side, it should be ready very soon. Meanwhile gas has been steadily coming into the country from Austria and Croatia.

The Orbán government in the last five years or so was not too eager to work either on alternative pipelines or on reducing the amount of gas used by Hungarian households, which is twice that of Austrian households. The reason is inadequate insulation. European Union directives oblige energy suppliers to improve the insulation of buildings, but for some strange reason the Orbán government is in no hurry to change the Hungarian law to allow such a solution. According to experts, people could save 30 to 50% on their gas bills if this essential repair work on windows and doors were done. Definitely more than the much touted 10% decrease in utility bills legislated by the government.

Orbán has exaggerated the danger of running short of gas. He even indicated that if he is unsuccessful in his negotiations with Putin, Hungarians will freeze to death because there will be no gas to heat their houses and apartments. Of course, this is not only an outright lie but a stupid business tactic. If the situation is so desperate, the negotiating partner will have the upper hand in the negotiations, as several people pointed out.

And with that I return to Russian Ambassador Sergeyev’s mysterious “strategic impetus” for future relations between the two countries. Suspicion is growing in Hungary that Orbán is making some kind of a political deal with Putin which may commit Hungary to a closer relationship in the future. Miklós Hargitai of Népszabadság goes so far as to speculate that “it is not the decrease in our utilities bills that will depend on Putin but Orbán’s hold on power.” For whatever reason, the Russian card seems to be of the utmost importance to Hungary’s gambling mini-Putin.

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buddy
Guest

I have a prediction: Putin is coming to Hungary to tell Orbán personally that he is going to cancel Paks II.

Or – even better! – Putin springs this surprise upon the media unexpectedly during a joint press conference between the two, without informing Orbán beforehand. That would be a hoot 😀

Andrew Urban
Guest

The mere imagery of Putin shaking hands with Orban, as reported by TV cameras for world consumption – is going to be enough for both leaders to make a point to Obama and Co.

Member

I am speculating only, but the viktor has two important items, he will sell anything for, even his soul. Votes and money and not necessarily in that order, but the two are dependent on each other. The 200,000 “Hungarians”, who are now Ukrainian citizens, and their status as potential dual citizens and voters can also come up in the Putin-viktor discussion.

Istvan
Guest
Andrew a photo of PM Orban and Putin will have no impact what so ever on the strategic thinking of the United States of America in relation to the current conflict over territory seized by Russian forces and their proxies. As was evident from the comments made by Senator McCain and other elected members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, last week in relation to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pleading with President Obama not to send ammunition and more advanced weapons systems to Ukraine my nation will not concede anything to Putin without resistance. If Obama fully yields to European appeasement of Russia the Democrats fate is sealed in the next Presidential election The United States is preparing for a protracted conflict with Russia and if PM Orban wants to link the fate of the Hungarian nation to Putin’s dictatorship then so be it. If the Hungarian people are going sit back in a palinka based haze filled with cigarette smoke and let this happen in mass without at least complaining like the crook Simicska has then so be it. If the Hungarian people oppose this eastern drift in their righteous disgust I hope Ambassador Ball steps outside her debutant persona… Read more »
Guest

@Andrew:
Why do Hungarians still think that their small insignificant country matters so much to the US and the EU – in a way these games played by Orbán are more like a mosquito in our living room …
If Hungary doesn’t behave/chooses the wrong side again then all Hungarians will have to bear the consequences!
Really stupid childish behaviour by Orbán!

Re the need for gas:
“twice that of Austrian households. The reason is inadequate insulation”
That was the first thing I saw when coming to Hungary in winter around 20 years ago – many windows were wet on the inside and people tried to get some kind of insulation with those foam plastic strips on the inner window sill. My first thought also was: Why don’t they invest in some insulation? The payback will be immediate? Only later did I realise that the money just wasn’t there and the government for some strange reason was not interested in helping, say via cheap loans like they did everywhere else in Europe …

bonifacevics
Guest

My bet is that Hungary will apply to be an observer (but not a full member yet) of the Eurasian Union.

I also suspect that the Russians will get a long term lease on the underground gas storage facilities to use it exclusively.

Andrew Urban
Guest

Istvan & wolfi – I was really thinking of the TV footage not still photos, but in any case my point is that Orban will be seen courting Putin and vice versa for different political reasons. Even if Hungary is a mosquito, its geopolitical situation is such that its leaning East or West does matter, both to US and EU. Putin gets a touch of respectability, Orban gets a touch of leverage with Western relationships. Neither is good for Hungary I suspect.

Webber
Guest

Meanwhile, to a nation with a serious economy and military forces, national sovereignty means something else:
“Britain reserves the right to arm Ukraine and will not allow the Ukrainian army to collapse, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told parliament on Tuesday.”
http://news.yahoo.com/britain-reserves-arm-ukraine-minister-142131223.html

Max
Guest

There is another vital aspect to this story on long-term gas delivery contract, to be signed on 17 February.

European Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič announced on 4 February that the Commission is working on an Energy Union strategy to be published on 25 February. Five topics are particularly on focus: supply security, single internal energy market, energy efficiency, decarbonisation and research.

It means that Putin and Orbán will undermine the whole common European Energy Union a week before it’s announcement. So that Brussels know exactly where its proper place is in European strategic affairs.

Webber
Guest

@Max – Orban couldn’t undermine the energy union if he wanted to. He can either join it, or stay out of it. If he stays out – fine. Hungary is far from essential.
Other countries in the EU can (and will) import Norwegian, American and other liquified gas through LNG terminals. If Orban doesn’t want to purchase any of that, who cares? Plenty of existing pipelines bypass Hungary anyway.

Webber
Guest

Putin should be thanked for encouraging the diversification of Europe’s gas supply. It would never have happened without him. Спасибо!!!
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-10-27/lithuania-grabs-lng-in-effort-to-curb-russian-dominance

Bool
Guest
The interview given by Simicska implies that Orban has a deliberate plan which he would like to accomplish in this third term of his and that must include – among others – binding Hungary to Russia in any way Orban possibly can. This means that it doesn’t matter what Orban says to Merkel or to others, he has a plan in his mind which he will accomplish regardless. Orban couldn’t care less about enfeebled western politicians. There’s nothing the EU or NATO can do about those plans short of firing Hungary, which they will not do since even an exclusion would be a symbolic victory (a game changer) for Russia. So Orban will be able to get away with everything, as he has been able to until now. It’s clear that fideszniks are aligning themselves with Orban, who has the power (prosecution, courts, secret services and lots of money, though what will Simicska do with all those assets which he managed for the Orban family?) and Simicska has been cut off from new businesses and he doesn’t have any “businesses” which could exist without the continuous state deals (his enterprises are only siphons of money). It is the extended Orban-clan… Read more »
galgamacsa
Guest

Jobbik is getting stronger, Fidesz is getting weaker, the distance between the two parties is getting smaller.

Nobody gives a s*** about the lefties, they are irrelevant.

Strongly 2/3s of the active voters are committed right-wing voters, while the 1/3 is divided between 5-6 parties.

The young and the middle-aged, plus those living in small villages (mind you, given the election system they are very important) oriented towards Jobbik.

Russia is a pretty good political investor, it succeeded to “persuade” Fidesz and own Jobbik.

tappanch
Guest

@galgamacsa

Jobbik + Fidesz = 39%, not the 66% you claim.

Ipsos poll, February 1 to 7.

Fidesz 23%
Jobbik 16%

MSzP+DK+Egyutt+PM 17%
LMP 3%

Does not know/tell: 41%

http://www.168ora.hu/itthon/tovabb-zuhan-fidesz-nepszerusege-133756.html

Webber
Guest

@galgamacsa “2/3s of active voters are committed right-wing voters.”
THAT is a huge misreading of the data (which you get from Origo’s interpretation of IPSOS’s data, I assume), which is.
21% say they will vote for Fidesz.
16% say they will vote for Jobbik.
That is, a little more than 1/3 of the electorate are committed right-wing voters.
All left-leaning parties together take @ 20%.
The largest group is:
40% who say they are not sure, or may not vote.
That number scan’t be interpreted, because a lot of people are afraid or unwilling to give their opinion, some of them are lying, and a lot of people truly don’t know but will vote. There is no telling which way these people will lean.
To say that these people support the right is a lie.
They are not committed to the left or the right. They are committed to Hungary.
The same group leaned left in 2002 and 2006. They turned right in 2010 and 2014. There is no telling where they will turn in 2018.

Guest

@galgamacsa:
That reminds me of Hungary before WW2 – you also had the very conservative/feudalist (?) Horthy and the fascists.
So is Hungary returning in spirit to these times?
Will it be cut off from the 21st Century like the Russian vassal states in the East?
That’s a disturbing thought to see this happen in the middle of Europe.

tappanch
Guest

Correctopn:

Does not know/tell: 43%
Fidesz 21%
MSzP+DK+Egyutt+PM 17%
Jobbik 16%
LMP 3%

Indeed, MSzP and other lefter-wing parties cannot pick up the disappointed voters.
This is a harsh judgement on their leaders.

Change since October 2014.

Fidesz: -14%
Jobbik: + 5%

Webber
Guest

@Tappanch – Don’t be too sure about the left not picking up those voters. For the first time since the fall of communism people are not only reluctant but actually afraid to openly express their opinions if they support the government’s “enemies.”. Fidesz may be in for some surprises in upcoming elections.

Webber
Guest

Poll data from Ipsos here in the chart in the middle of the article clearly shows
Fidesz 21%
Jobbik 16%, etc.

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20150211-lassan-befogja-a-fideszt-a-jobbik-az-ipsos-szerint.html

galgamacsa
Guest
A couple of points. The electorate changed significantly from 2002 and 2006 (and will until 2018), and its clear that nobody from the under 30 bracket wants anything to with the “left” as such, especially from the out of Budapest regions which are the most important. Budapest is so compartmentalized in the election system that that I propose it should not even be included in the polls, because its results mislead the opposition-leaning people (and of course the left could not even really win in Budapest). The tactics is exactly what Putin uses: Putin allows (although there’s oppression too) a small quasi”liberal”/hipster domain to exist mostly in Moscow so that it becomes clear to average voters that the liberals are a Moscovite, urban group who are out of touch with reality and care only about marginal issues like gay right or giving rights to/being soft on immigrants in the name of “human rights” etc. The left just isn’t cool and if one associates with the left than they will get the infection and will be uncool themselves, an absolute no go for young people. Like it or not Jobbik is cool now, it’s the only party which is active among… Read more »
Webber
Guest

@galgamacsa –
Public opinion shifts continually.
Nobody in Hungary is afraid to say that they support parties on the right. Therefore, the figure 36% who say that they will certainly vote for Fidesz or Jobbik is pretty solid, and seems unlikely to grow much. Not too many people are denying that they support the right.
There are, however, quite a lot of people who are reluctant to say they will vote for the left. Figures here are definitely skewed. How skewed, nobody can tell.
I would not even venture to predict the results of 2018 elections.
Veszprém: certainly more people will vote for opposition candidates than admit this in polls. The problem is that there are so many opposition candidates, and Fidesz is running a campaign of slander against just one of them – the one who might just beat the Fidesz candidate.

Miki
Guest

The left is definitely not cool, but it’s a misunderstanding that young people are right wing voters. In general young people are open minded, liberal, pro-west and idealistic. Jobbik is conversative, anti-West and being busy with things that young people don’t care about at all like the Trianon treaty. Sure there are lower-educated young ones in the country side that have sad future prospects who support Jobbik, but further it’s an unattractive party for young voters.
Young people first lost interest in MSZP because these are boring, dusty 50 plussers who were mostly busy with themselves and didn’t do anything for the younger generation. Now Fidesz is also seen more more as a group of older men we are only busy with themselves and seem to have no connection with the young ones.
The polls show it as well that if there would be a new party which is neither left or right, it could easily grow to be the biggest party.

Dijana Erakovic
Guest

I suspect that one topic might be a part of Orban’s and Putin’s discussion. Recently, there was a news in Croatia that oil rigs will be placed in the Adriatic Sea. The public still didn’t receive enough information about it, so it is not clear – who, where, why, how. But Croatian oil company INA is owned by Hungarian main oil company MOL. In the same time, Hungary has a special economic relations with Russia related to gas and oil. I guess that there is a clash of international interests related to the new oil source. It seems as it is a big thing, but somehow still hidden. Who will exploit it, who will benefit from it, what amount of oil do we talk about, how would it influence power relations based on the oil exploitation? I would assume that Orban might have a very substantial information about it via MOL’s presence in Croatia.

Lucy
Guest

@DIjana Erakovic

There are literally two people now to whom Orban listens to in economic/business matters:

Lőrinc Mészáros, Orban’s Felcsút (the town where Orban hails from) friend and all-around front (Strohmann) and Zsolt Hernádi (of MOL and MET fame), who is also best friends with Sandor Csanyi (MET/Olajterv/MOL/OTP etc.).

Hernadi was in the same business deal (CD Hungary, the real estate holding company owning the diplomatic residences and embassies privatized from OTP financing and prior to the privatization designated as a company not to be privatized due to its national security significance) with Istvan Garancsi (MET etc.), both of whom now manage assets on behalf of Orban and are becoming filthy rich themselves in the process.

Whatever Orban will decide about those oil rigs will depend on how much these people can make eventually (taking into consideration the Russian angle as well).

Having said that I think INA will be sold back to Croatia so eventually it will be handsome indigenous Croatian businessmen who will have the privilege to erect the rigs in front of the tourists.

droidradiobudapest
Guest

6 million people listen to radio in Hungary on a daily basis, about 7 million at least once a week.

Conclusion of the latest data: Fidesz and the state radios (edited from Fidesz HQ) effectively cover the entire market.

Klubradio (which operates in Budapest mostly) is almost nonexistent, however the smartly but firmly fidesznik Inforadio is already no. 4 in Budapest.

The left wing never had a media strategy (while Info Radio was set up way before 2010), and never really had a vision, so they have nothing now, they are relegated to complaining.

Fidesz is currently pouring money into the internet and it has about HUF 130bn (80bn from the state budget and 50bn from state companies which will advertise in the state media) to burn on fidesznik tv propaganda.

End of story.

http://www.kreativ.hu/radio/cikk/radiora_bulizott_az_orszag_40_szazaleka_szilveszterkor

Member

@droidradiobudapest My exact sentiments. THe left is not loosing the election against Fidesz because Fidesz (or Jobbik) is so good, they are loosing it because they have no viable “propaganda”. Fidesz is taken over the media, Jobbik is taking over the viral market. When I say viral, I am not talking about social media, but social connections. WHen will the liberal opposition realize that money should be poured into marketing versus all the needless spending? The demographic group that is easiest to convey are the people closer to 20. Although 80% of spending are from 40+, further you move up, more brand loyal consumers are. These are facts, that are based on decades of marketing studies. Look what happened when the Internet tax was suggested. The politically apathetic younger generation took the streets. Hire some professionals to handle the darn liberal campaign!

tappanch
Guest

1.
Fidesz took away Klubradio’s 11 licenses in the countryside, and the radio retained its right to broadcast in Budapest only after a lengthy court battle.

In the last 5 years, only radios that are either apolitical or support Fidesz were able to get license.

So the lopsided media presence of Fidesz comes from the dictatorial nature of the regime, not do much from the otherwise inept leadreship of the opposition.

2.
The head of the “youth branch” of Fidesz was arrested for trying to sell fake euros (30,000 euros) last week, but it reached the media only today.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/02/11/penzhamisitas_fidesz_ifjusagi_tagozat_veress_aron/

Gyula
Guest

Népszabadsag says André Goodfriend is leaving Hungary. I guess Orban will present this as a victory, with a little wink, well, it’s personal reasons, but of course we know these “personal reasons”…It’s no too difficult to pacify the Americans after all. Orban is a real winner, he eliminates all of his ‘enemies’, the fidesznik voters can sit back and calm down.

tappanch
Guest

Correction: Klubradio has lost all of its 12 frequencies in the countryside since 2010, the year the Fidesz party grabbed the absolute power.

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