Viktor Orban aims for Vladimir Putin’s favors amid Ukraine crisis | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW
Orban is eager to negotiate increased gas supplies between Russia and Hungary and discuss progress on the Russian-backed Paks nuclear power plant project in central Hungary, but the crisis at the Ukrainian border is expected to surface when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
“Obviously we cannot avoid talking about the security situation in Europe, where Hungary’s position is quite clear. We are interested in peace,” Orban said in an interview last week.
He added that he would discuss security negotiations with EU and NATO officials before meeting Putin.
Daniel Hegedus, Visiting Fellow for Central Europe at the German Marshall Fund in the United States (US), thinks the timing of this meeting is symbolic.
“This is the 11th personal meeting between Putin and Orban and the timing of this sends a symbolic message to Putin, as it shows him that not all EU countries have shunned him because of the crisis in Ukraine. A similar meeting also took place after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, raising questions whether Hungary was like the Kremlin’s Trojan horse in the West,” he told DW.
“But with this meeting, Orban wants to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, he wants to maintain his country’s privileged relationship with Russia. On the other hand, in view of the upcoming Hungarian elections, he is keen to meet the energy needs of his country and seeks to increase the volume of gas supplies to the Kremlin,” he added.
Since Orban came to power in 2014, he has had regular talks with Putin. Negotiations on energy supplies have always been at the heart of these meetings.
According to Andras Racz, senior researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations, Orban’s trade policy of making his country self-sufficient in energy production also benefits the Kremlin.
“In 2014, Hungary signed a contract with the Russian state nuclear energy company, Rosatom, to expand the Paks nuclear energy project in Hungary by constructing two nuclear power plants. The project is financed by a loan of 10 billion euros ($11 billion) from Russia and is a key element in improving trade relations between Russia and Hungary,” he told DW.
“Before this agreement, Rosatom had projects all over the world and not in the EU. The signing of this agreement with Hungary was very important for the company because many companies are of the opinion that if you are good enough to the EU, you’re pretty good elsewhere,” he added.
The Paks nuclear power plant located along the Danube is the only nuclear power plant in Hungary
While the project has suffered numerous delays, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told the Russian News Agency Cup that Hungary hopes to “enter the establishment phase” in the first half of 2022.
Strengthen gas supplies
Szijjarto also said increasing annual gas supplies would be a key part of talks with Putin, amid soaring energy prices in Europe.
In September 2021, Hungary signed a long-term gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom which guarantees that 4.5 billion cubic meters of Russian gas will be supplied to Hungary via Serbia and Austria, bypassing Ukraine.
The contract angered Ukrainian officials last year, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba saying the deal was signed “to challenge Ukraine’s national interests and Ukrainian-Hungarian relations”.
Moreover, Orban’s meeting with Putin raised eyebrows in Hungary amid tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border.
The opposition party released a statement last week calling on Orban to call off the meeting, saying the meeting ‘sends the message that NATO and EU member states are not united in rejecting Putin’s proposals. “.
Oleg Ignatov, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a think tank, said while Orban’s main strengths are pragmatism and doing what is most beneficial for his country, he has a complicated relationship with Russia. .
“I can only say that Orban got everything he needed from Russia – a very favorable gas contract. The terms of this contract are also better than those of some other buyers of Russian gas. At the same time, Hungary does not deviate from the EU policy towards Russia,” he told DW.
How will Hungary handle the Ukrainian crisis?
As concerns grow over the Kremlin’s actions on the Ukrainian border, Poland, Czechia and Slovakia – which form the Visegrad Group (V4) with Hungary – have supported NATO military efforts to support the Ukraine. But Hungary has been reluctant to show support due to numerous past disagreements with Ukraine.
Ignatov said that although Hungary and Ukraine have different views, for example on the rights of Hungarians living in Ukraine, there is no evidence that Hungary will take a different position from the EU on European security.
In addition to NATO efforts, US and European leaders have also discussed imposing sanctions on Russia, including trade bans and energy supply cuts.
GMF’s Hegedus said that while sanctions are on the table, Orban knows that whatever he can do to defuse the crisis will also serve his national interests.
“Eastern Europe is heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies and Orban knows how an invasion of Ukraine could harm gas supplies,” he said.
“In addition, Hungary has a multilateral foreign policy. So an invasion of Ukraine would also put it in a difficult situation where, as a member of NATO and the EU, it will have to balance the issues between the West and, at the same time, listen to the Kremlin in order to maintain their special relationship.”
Edited by: Rob Mudge