The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the European Union, is performing a delicate balancing act as Russian begins its invasion of Ukraine. While the government condemned the Russian military action and backed the sanctions proposed by the EU, Orbán made it clear that Hungary will stay out of the conflict at all costs and will continue to do business with Russia.
Hungary condemns Russia’s military action in Ukraine and supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said as Russian tanks rolled into the neighboring country. At the same time, the Hungarian premier excluded the possibility of Hungary deploying either soldiers or military equipment in Ukraine.
In a conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this week, Orbán stressed that Hungary will support the European Union’s joint efforts to settle the conflict, adding that the Hungarian government was in constant consultations with its Western allies.
European Union member states agreed on new sanctions against Russia and the European Commission will finalize the package of restrictive measures in consultation with its partners as soon as possible, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said late Tuesday. “If the Kremlin continues to escalate this crisis, we will not hesitate to take further measures,” von der Leyen said. The EU sanctions package is a clear response to Russia’s violation of international law, she added.
The sanctions focus on travel bans and asset seizures, affecting a number of high-ranking Russian politicians, business people and organizations.
Hungary voted in favor of the sanctions and Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó stressed that the country will not break the unity of Europe.
Staying out of conflict
On Wednesday, the Hungarian premier said that Hungary must stay out of the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict, adding that what mattered most was the country’s security. Orbán rejected proposals by some opposition politicians on sending troops and weapons to Ukraine. The military must be prepared to handle the situation in cooperation with the police “should things turn for the worse with refugees coming,” the prime minister said.
Orbán conducted extensive talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 1 February, in a self-ascribed “peace mission.” This was Orbán’s 12th meeting with Putin visit since he won Hungarian elections in 2010. The premier said after the meeting that western sanctions against Russia would be “doomed to failure” and that Russian security demands were reasonable. “What we can offer is the Hungarian model,” Orbán said. Hungary, a member of both NATO and the European Union, enjoys “excellent ties” with Russia based on mutual respect.
Russia has been supplying energy to Hungary for many years, covering 55 percent of the country’s oil consumption and 80 percent of its gas consumption. Whereas Europe may encounter problems with its gas supply, Hungary’s supply was secure thanks to its contract with Russia for 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year until 2036, Putin said on 1 February.
In a Facebook video posted on Thursday, Orbán said Hungary condemned the military invasion of Ukraine but would continue to do business with Russia. The premier said Hungary would go ahead with the Paks 2 deal in which Russia will build new nuclear reactors in Hungary, as the old ones need to be decommissioned.
Defense forces mobilize
The Hungarian Defense Forces, meanwhile, started deploying troops to the eastern part of the country. Defense Minister Tibor Benkő said that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had instructed him to task the army with preventing any possible armed incursions into Hungarian territory.
Hungarian service members at the border must also prepare to handle the arrival of refugees and see to other humanitarian tasks. “The Hungarian armed forces have two tasks: one is to provide humanitarian aid, and the other is to close Hungary’s borders and ensure that no armed group can enter Hungary. To this end, I have ordered the deployment of armed forces to the eastern region of Hungary, in appropriate numbers and with appropriate equipment. In other words, the border must be reinforced,” said the defense minister.
Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on Thursday said Hungary was keeping its representations in Ukraine open, including its embassy in Kyiv, as part of its work to guarantee the safety of Hungarians, he said. The minister called on Hungarians currently in eastern or central Ukraine to contact the embassy.
Hungary is prepared to take any further measures “swiftly and in a timely manner” should circumstances require it, the minister said.
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