Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, held one of his unusual press conferences with foreign media this week.
The nationalist-populist leader of Hungary has shied away from speaking with media outlets he deems as unfriendly in the past. But once a year, Mr. Orban tries to answer some of the “hostile” journalists’ questions.
Orban’s rare press conference
Orban believes that despite 2022 being the most challenging year since 1990, his administration successfully attracted significant investments and “kept the country out of the war.”
The Hungarian prime minister oversimplified the economic situation and concealed historical inflation, substantial currency devaluation, and a growing sense of isolation inside the EU.
Orban shared pro-Russia narratives on the Russia-Ukraine war
Orban condemned the EU for “drifting into the war” via sanctions against Russia and arming and training the Ukrainian military. He asserted that the war in Ukraine had no impact on Hungary’s security, which directly contradicts the evidence that Ukraine is protecting Europe from Russian aggression.
Victor Orban added that relationships with Russia and economic cooperation with China are crucial for Europe’s competitiveness.
Russia is rapidly losing support on the international scene and increasingly plunging into isolation. However, becoming a pariah state does not affect the friendship with Hungary. Local populists remain loyal to Putin even after the Druzhba oil pipeline stopped after the massive Russian shelling of Ukraine.
Hungarian President Viktor Orbán also opposed the European Commission’s decision to provide aid to Ukraine for 18 billion euros for 2023 and offered an alternative in the form of bilateral agreements.
Hungarians lose confidence in Orban’s policy
According to a recent Median poll, two-thirds of Hungarians disagree with Orban’s claim that the country is progressing in the right direction. However, the government’s effective propaganda machine is still in operation. Most people attribute the problems to the Russia-Ukraine war and the sanctions against Russia.
Only 26% of Hungarians support sanctions, and 55% strongly oppose them, even if they cause economic hardship. Additionally, the EU’s support has slightly declined from 88% in April to 78%.
In October, one of the largest rallies in recent years took place in the Hungarian capital. The rally was organized to support teachers and to criticize the policies of the country’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.
The majority of Hungarians think Prime Minister Orban should engage Russia more strongly. The proportion of Hungarians who support the government’s pro-Russian stance has dropped by 19%. The results of the survey were reported by the Hungarian journal Népszava.
Orban faces more criticism from leading politicians as well. In October, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony on Facebook wrote that Orban’s administration’s claim that Russia provides Hungary with cheap gas is untrue, harming the nation’s standing and placing it on the wrong side of history.
In addition, in December, a scandal also hit Orban’s government around privacy violations by the ruling party. Human Rights Watch discovered that the Hungarian government used information gathered from Hungarians who applied for the Covid-19 vaccine or requested tax benefits to distribute the ruling Fidesz party’s campaign narratives.
Orban’s murky foreign relations
Despite its difficult financial situation, declared by Victor Orban,, Hungary gave Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated region of Bosnia and Herzegovina led by the pro-Russia nationalist Milorad Dodik, a 110 million euro loan, according to Radio Free Europe.
Observers wonder why Hungary will provide Dodik with another larger financial support package soon after providing him a 100 million euro grant before their elections in October. The 110 million euro loan is being provided by EximBank, which has excellent terms: a 5 percent interest rate for ten years.
Milorad Dodik serves as a president of Republika Srpska after the election in November, and he is a pro-Russian leader in the region. Analysts recently warned that Russia might use Dodik to destabilize Bosnia, Herzegovina, and the Balkans.
In November, the Hungarian Foreign Minister announced the beginning of economic cooperation with Iran. He said this is necessary to reintegrate the sanctioned country into the system of international cooperation. Information that Iran provides Russia with kamikaze drones appeared in the summer. The US warned that Iran could supply Russia with attack drones.
It seems that in foreign policy, Orban’s government has taken a vector to follow Russia, and its allies, despite being a member of the EU and NATO.
Hungary became Russia’s target for disinformation
According to analysts, Hungary is one of Russia’s primary targets for disinformation, and the radical right-wing administration there has contributed to the propagation of Moscow’s narrative.
A European Parliamentary committee revealed how Russia targeted Hungary and Spain with disinformation operations and other strategies to increase its influence within the European Union. A study from a Hungarian NGO revealed the existence of a vast Kremlin troll network operating in Hungary.
Russian agents in Hungary
Hungary has also become home to many Russian agents and spies. Thus, the family of the leading Russian spy Sergey Naryshkin is registered in Budapest and feels there at home.
There was a spy case related to Hungary and Russia. In late November 2022, Ukrainian special forces detained a suspected Russian agent on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border. Media reported that the man tried to transfer secret information to Hungary on a flash drive, which he hid in his rectum.
Hungarian opposition suspects the creation of an FSB network, a den of spies at the heart of the EU. And the Hungarian authorities are in no hurry to expel Russian spies.
In this murky context, Hungary, an EU member, continues to promote Russian narratives and Moscow’s interest in Europe. However, Hungarians and the European Union should be aware that having a government transformed into a Trojan horse will undermine the security of the Union.