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 Russian massive shelling of Ukraine.
On November 15, Russia launched the biggest missile attack on Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine launched on February 24, 2022. The 96 cruise missiles and dozens of Russian drones targeted civilian infrastructure, damaging also the Druzhba oil pipeline, which goes to Hungary. This article analyzes Hungary’s policy towards Ukraine, and Budapest’s openly aggressive steps.
Missile attacks harmed not only Ukraine
As a result of the Russian missile strike, the transformer substation that ensured the operation of the Druzhba oil pipeline, which supplies Russian crude oil to Hungary, was damaged. As a result of the Russian attack, the voltage in the network dropped, and Druzhba was shut down.
This provoked a real panic in Budapest – they even convened the Defense Council and expressed concern. They were also worried about the missile incident in Poland but did not blame anyone.
On November 16, the oil pipeline started working again. However, a new Russian missile attack could quickly destroy this fragile balance. Thus, by its shelling of Ukraine, Russia strikes at its ally – Hungary.
Importance of the Druzhba oil pipeline
It is the world’s largest oil pipeline, and its name alludes to the so-called Soviet “friendship of peoples,” i.e., subordination to Moscow, the so-called “big brother.” Built in the 1960s, it supplies oil to Belarusian refineries and its transit to Europe. This oil is currently not subject to EU sanctions.
The oil pipeline runs from Tatarstan to the Samara region of Russia, passes through Bryansk, and then splits into two major branches:
- Northern (Belarus, Poland, Germany, as well as Lithuania and Latvia),
- Southern (Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary).
Hungary is dependent on Russian oil
Hungary receives Russian oil through Ukraine. The country is landlocked, so Hungary’s energy sector is critically dependent on transit. Despite this, de facto, Hungary does nothing to eliminate this dependence on Russia. The Russians finance even the multibillion-dollar project to build new reactors at the Paks NPP. And this is no accident.
Hungary and Russia have a long-standing “friendship.” Although a member of the EU and NATO, the country has been an ally of Russia for many years. This is due to the personality of the long-time Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
An ardent populist, he began his political career with anti-Soviet rhetoric. He supported liberalism but later radically changed his views and, in the 21st century, became a great friend of Putin. There are speculations that it was due to a kompromat against Orban that FSB obtained.
Orban has been in power continuously for over 12 years (he was first elected Prime Minister in 1998 and was forced to resign in 2002 after losing the election). During this time, he usurped power in the country and monopolized control of the media.
Administrative resources, corruption, and propaganda are the pillars of his rule. The fourth pillar is friendship with Russia. The latter has provided not rich Hungary with “stability” – cheap energy and billions of dollars in loans.
Hungary actively worked in Putin’s interests
Orban used Russian money as a “Trojan horse” in the EU. Hungarian authorities also carried out harsh information attacks on Ukraine.
Orban blessed the Russian aggression in 2014 and made many ambiguous statements about the Russian-occupied Crimea, tried in every possible way to block sanctions against Russia, and encouraged separatism in Transcarpathia.
Hungary did its best to block Ukraine’sUkraine’s European integration and Kyiv’s path to NATO. Even after the 2022 invasion, Orban denied sanctions against Russia, called them a “historic mistake,” and then took offense at President Zelensky, who publicly criticized him for it.
Laszlo Torotskoi, a member of parliament for Hungary, publicly states the country’s intentions to annex Ukrainian territories together with Russia. A Hungarian MP’s scandalous tweet hints at the annexation of Ukrainian territories.
Hungary asks Ukraine to agree to Russian demands
Hungary has repeatedly refused to help Ukraine in 2022, this applies to the provision of weapons and their transit.
Budapest refused to train the Ukrainian military on its territory, moreover, in every possible way, blocked the provision of financial assistance to Ukraine. On November 8, Hungary announced at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels that it would not support the allocation of an 18 billion euro aid package to Ukraine.
Budapest has also repeatedly urged Kyiv to seek peace with Moscow on Putin’s terms.
In response to Orban’s scandalous statements, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that the war could come to the EU and Hungary fast, and Russian tanks would again “be in Budapest faster than someone from the Hungarian government could call Moscow.”
The Russian missile attacks on November 15, which suspended the Druzhba pipeline operations, only confirmed these words of Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko.
EU exposed Hungary’s intentions
Hungarian authorities have done everything possible to block the implementation of sanctions against Russia. And here, it seems to have crossed the line.
The open pro-Russian policy of the Orban government has irritated the EU. They realized that Hungary was a Trojan horse of the Russians in Europe, and Brussels has repeatedly accused Budapest of corruption and violation of the principles of democracy and law.
There are more and more voices for expelling Hungary from the EU and depriving Budapest of billions of subsidies and loans. That is, to do everything as the main Eurosceptic – Viktor Orban himself – says.
“In the European Union, negotiations are often difficult and more countries can do it. But Hungary has come a long way, in my opinion, to the edge of a certain abyss. Now it has to decide whether to return from that edge or to risk a jump, the consequences of which I do not want to speculate”, Czech Minister for European Affairs Mikuláš Beck said. The Czech Republic currently holds the EU presidency.
These are not empty words. On September 15, 2022, the European Parliament recognized that Hungary is no longer a democracy.
EU members oppose Hungary’s position
If exclusion from the EU is an extreme measure, then the termination of financial assistance to Budapest is a very realistic scenario. Depriving Hungary of the right to vote and veto is also real (in particular, it is provided by Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union).
“Hungary remains the only EU country that has not yet ratified the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. At the same time, I would like to emphasize that there is no gray area here, as we repeatedly stressed immediately after the NATO Summit in Madrid. Hungary also hinders certain aspects of support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression” – German Foreign Minister Annalena Burdock was outraged.
The EU is currently blocking the allocation of 5.8 billion euros for Hungary from the coronavirus recovery fund, and the German parliament is calling on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to stop the distribution of 7.5 billion euros from the EU under the rule of law program. Indeed, why give money for something that does not exist?
The European Parliament plans to adopt a decision to recognize the Russian regime as a terrorist shortly. This will finally make Russia persona non grata in the EU and, accordingly, deprive Moscow of its trump card and make Hungary’s support for Putin extremely problematic.
Orban’s policy will come to an end
For many years, Hungary has been pulling money from the EU and benefited greatly from working as a lobbyist for Russia’s interests in Europe. The “Orban stability” was based on this. Now times have changed, Russia is weakening, and Brussels has finally started working on its mistakes. Every day, it is more and more difficult for Orban to play on the side of Putin. Hungary will have a harsh winter, followed by no less complicated spring and summer.
Europe has figured out Orban and sent a powerful signal to the Hungarian society that Prime Minister Orban has led the country somewhere wrong. The Hungarians themselves already understand this.
On October 23, on the 66th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, which Russia crushed, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Budapest. The reason for the protests was dissatisfaction with the economic policy of the government and the inability of the populist government to fight inflation.
Orbán, of course, has insurance, most recently, in April 2022, he and his Fidesz party won the elections again, but this also means he is responsible for the economic crisis. When you play poker and bluff, be prepared to be called. And then you have to pay.