Ever since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, the relations between the EU and Russia have plummeted to a historic low. European sanctions on Russia have seriously reduced economic relations, with many European countries suffering due to inability to export their products to the Russian market.
One of the most notable exceptions – though not the sole one – of a EU member country raising its voice against the policy of sanctions is Victor Orban’s Hungary.
Orban, widely regarded as a pioneer of European right, has positioned himself as an important ally of Vladimir Putin in Central Europe.
Euro-skeptic, nationalist, anti-immigrant and pro-sovereignty, Orban has already upset many EU leaders with his policies and public rejection of neo-liberalism and liberal democracy.
Not only has Orban continued to crack down on foreign interests in Hungary, by threatening to shut down foreign funded NGO’s, he expanded his economic cooperation with Russia, most notably in the all-important energy sector.
Hungary is heavily dependent on Russian gas, and most of its gas and oil imports come from Russia. Mr. Orban has been a vocal opponent of EU sanctions against Russia, and backed the construction of Russian South Stream gas pipeline, which would supply Central and Southeastern Europe with Russian gas.
While Putin has canceled his visit to France in October last year, he has visited Budapest three times in last three years, more than any other European country.
Two years ago, Putin’s visit caused protests on the streets of Budapest, but it has not prevented the two leaders from expanding their cooperation. Russia and Hungary have already agreed to strengthen their economic relations, and Russia will finance the construction of Paks II, in an agreement that will significantly expand Hungary’s largest nuclear power plant.
Speaking about the subject during his Friday visit to Hungary, Putin said:
The project costs €12 billion, 80% of which was supposed to come from a Russian loan. I apprised the prime minister of other options. We are prepared to finance 100% of it, but then the terms and conditions of the agreement should be slightly different. We can do this as well.
Hungary’s agreements with Russia have caused criticism among the opponents of Orban’s regime, as well as some EU leaders.
Despite this, Orban has a long history of defying Brussels. Under his rule, Hungary has significantly strengthened anti-immigration regulations, passed new laws limiting the power of foreign banks and tightened its control over the media.
Almost since the beginning of his second term as Prime Minister, Orban has started challenging Brussels on many important issues. Today, when Donald Trump is the 45th President of United States and various EU countries are on the verge of rebellion against their – previously unchallenged – political elites, Orban could be seen as the man who started the trend.
Orban’s intention to continue to expand his partnership with Russia will, without doubt, undermine the EU’s current policies of sanctions as a mean to force Putin to reconsider his strategy in Ukraine.
In Orban, Putin’s Russia has found one of its most reliable European allies.
Image: Wall Street Journal