The Ukraine Crisis: Orbán Pledges Cooperation With Putin, Exposing ‘Cracks’ in EU and NATO

Written by | Friday, February 4th, 2022

Hungary’s European and NATO allies have kept close eyes on the country’s prime minister’s visit (1 February) to Moscow. Viktor Orbán met with Russian president Vladimir Putin as the EU and NATO seek a united response to the military threat from Russia on the borders of Ukraine. The trip came after the divisive Hungarian leader attended a meeting of ultranationalist European parties in Madrid. Hungary neighbors Ukraine, where there’s a large ethnic Hungarian minority. During the five-hour meeting with President Putin, Orbán blasted the ineffectiveness of the EU’s punitive sanctions on Moscow and hailed his successful relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Described by Orbán as the “most important” meeting in the relations between Budapest and Moscow since he came to power, the Hungarian leader’s self-ascribed “peace mission” culminated in reiterated calls for dialogue and strong support for Hungary’s friendly relations with Russia.
“So the situation is serious. The differences are also significant. Russia’s needs are known to the whole world, and it is clear that the response to them does not meet them”, Orbán told journalists following the talks. “What we can offer is the Hungarian model,” he said, pointing out that Hungary, an EU and NATO member, has “excellent relations with Russia.” “It is possible, there are examples of it, Hungary’s of all countries. It is true that this requires mutual respect,” he added. Besides exports and mutual investment, the talks also looked at gas – which, following a 2021 fifteen-year deal with Russia’s Gazprom, is now being delivered to Hungary at a rate of 4.5 billion cubic meters per year via the Serbian-Hungarian inter-connector and Austria. The deal infuriated Ukraine, with Kyiv saying it is “surprised and disappointed” that gas will be arriving in Hungary via a route that bypasses it. Hungary was one of the few EU countries that used Russia’s first Covid vaccine, Sputnik V, in its vaccination drive, despite the product still not having been approved for use by the European Medicines Agency.
Following the meeting with Orbán, the Russian president said a solution to the crisis is “not simple” but confirmed the Kremlin is open to more talks as tensions rise over Ukraine. Putin also noted that the West had “ignored” Moscow’s security concerns, referring to the US’ and NATO’s written responses to the Kremlin’s calls for legally binding security guarantees. “…it is already clear that fundamental Russian concerns ended up being ignored,” he said, before adding the Kremlin is still poring over the US and NATO’s feedback. “It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine but its main task is to contain Russia’s development,” Putin said. “In this sense Ukraine itself is just a tool to reach this goal,” he said. Putin added that French President Emmanuel Macron could come to Moscow for talks “in the near future.”
Meanwhile, the Hungarian opposition accused Orbán’s visit to Moscow of being “contrary to national interests” and sending “a message that NATO and EU member states are not united in rejecting Putin’s proposals”. The Hungarian government has not come out in criticism of Russia’s demands, which would have the alliance defense structures rolled back to their state in 1997 – in turn affecting Budapest as well. However, NATO sources suggest that Budapest is unlikely to stir the waters. In a related but separate development, Ukraine, Poland and the United Kingdom have announced they are looking to form a partnership to boost three-way cooperation and regional security in the face of “Russian aggression.” The announcement came as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Kyiv for talks. Poland and Britain have both offered security aid to Kyiv amid a buildup of tens of thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders in recent weeks.

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