Hungary continues to view Russia as a partner, but Poland has been viewing it as a security concern since 2008.
However, that was no longer practicable when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Hungarian diplomacy failed to capitalize on the opportunity to shift course and adapt, endangering the “special relationship” between Poland and Hungary and the viability of future Visegrad Group (V4) (cultural and political alliance of four Central European countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.) collaboration.
Budapest’s stance has been, at best, lukewarm in comparison to Warsaw, which has gone all out to back Kyiv, including supplying weaponry and influencing other nations to do the same.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister and Putin’s last remaining ally in the EU, has publicly criticized these sanctions for “doing more harm to the EU than to Russia” even though the country has voted in favor of all ten of the sanction packages (some of which have been significantly watered down).
Nevertheless, Hungary maintains energy cooperation with Russia’s Gazprom and Rosatom – it has inked an enlarged gas supply agreement and officially insists that Russia will build the Paks 2 nuclear power station – stating that it is an “economic necessity.”
Peter Szijjarto as a symbol of anti-EU policy
Many Hungarian diplomatic experts believed that Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto’s high-profile trips to Moscow and Minsk were needless and inflammatory. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, a Russian Orthodox bishop who supports war, was prevented from being included in the EU sanctions list.
Szijjarto remains in his position as foreign minister and is the most symbolic figure regarding relations between Hungary and Russia.
Bilateral relations hit rock bottom last summer when Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki after Orban had remarked on differences between the two capitals over the war in Ukraine during his key annual speech at Baile Tusnad in Romania, told the press: “I confirm Prime Minister Orban’s words that Poland and Hungary have parted ways.”
Since then, low-level meetings have replaced the previously intense rhythm of high-level meetings, typically involving mid-level bureaucrats rather than government lawmakers.
Polish society has also grown more pessimistic, so the change is not just apparent in political circles. According to a recent CBOS poll, the popularity of Hungarians among Poles has fallen by 21% and is at its lowest point in 30 years. The favor of Germans is just above that of Hungarians.
Orban could forgo long-term diplomatic ties in favor of immediate political advantages. Finland’s membership was only accepted at the end of March, while Sweden is still waiting, despite a promise made to Morawiecki in November that Hungary will confirm the accession of both nations “before the first parliamentary session in 2023 in February.”
The expansion of NATO, according to the Hungarian analyst Mitrovits, “is a guarantee of regional security for Poland.” Hungary is endangering vital Polish interests by preventing NATO expansion.
According to Polish and Hungarian specialists who refrain from using “crisis” to describe the condition of the current ties, the separation is temporary.
According to these experts, the main difference between Poland and Hungary is the shipment of weapons to Ukraine. While Hungary has restricted itself to providing humanitarian relief, accepting refugees, and treating Ukrainian soldiers in its hospitals, Poland has been a significant material supplier to the Ukrainians, even advocating for other nations to contribute more.
Poland and Hungary have long had a close relationship, but relations have gotten even closer since Orban’s Fidesz and PiS (Law and Justice party) have been in office. The two governments have supported one another when violating democratic standards and have even exchanged ideas on how to do so. Most importantly, they helped one another in the many legal conflicts, which made it harder for the European Commission to punish them for violations.
Experts claim that Warsaw’s growing links with Washington and Hungary’s ambivalence towards Russia are causing a rift between the two nations. Fidesz and its media allies assiduously sow anti-Americanism, especially after the defeat of Orban’s friend and supporter Donald Trump in 2020.
Experts caution that the Orban government could damage Polish-Hungarian relations long beyond the end of the war in Ukraine if it goes too far in challenging the transatlantic alliance.
Photo: President of Hungary Katalin Novák and Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki from gov.pl