Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stepped up his criticism on Wednesday (18 February) of his European allies for their policy of seeking to isolate Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine, naming top EU official Donald Tusk as one of its backers.
His comments come one day after a visit to Budapest by Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which the two leaders agreed for Russia to keep supplying gas to Hungary, cementing their growing ties.
In recent weeks, Orbán had appeared to want to reassure the rest of Europe that he was not drifting into the Kremlin’s orbit, but his comments during Putin’s visit and on Wednesday showed differences remain.
Orbán told reporters at a briefing that the EU was divided along the lines of how to treat relations with Russia. Hungary, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria believed cooperation was necessary, he said.
“We think that without cooperation with the Russians we cannot achieve our goals,” the prime minister said.
But the Baltic states and Poland, along with the United States, think Russia should be squeezed out from cooperation with the EU, which Orbán said was based on a “value-based foreign policy”.
“This rift in the EU is very deep, of strategic nature,” Orbán said, adding that European Council President Tusk is “on the other side” of this dividing line.
As Poland’s prime minister until late last year, Tusk was one of the most hawkish European advocates for tougher sanctions on Russia, a line he continued once he moved to Brussels.
Orbán will travel to Warsaw on Thursday to meet Ewa Kopacz, Tusk’s successor. Orbán has backed EU sanctions on Russia.
At the same discussion with reporters, Orbán flagged a potential conflict with the EU over energy policy. Hungary’s plan to run its domestic energy sector on a non-profit basis in order to provide cheap energy for households and industry contradicts the bloc’s energy policy, he said.
Victor Orbán, whose conservative Fidesz party in April won a new four-year term, has been accused by some parts of the EU of seeking to amass too much power and rejecting democratic checks and balances.
Orbán has made it clear that Hungary would act according to what was in its national interest, even if that meant annoying its allies in the European Union and the United States over the country’s relations with Russia.
Last year, Orbán agreed with Putin on a loan of about €10 billion to build two additional reactors in the country’s only nuclear central in the central city of Paks.
Many Hungarians have expressed anger at the government's decision to expand the nuclear power plant without consulting the people.
More and more often Hungarians demonstrate to remind Orbán of the country’s obligations as a member of EU and NATO.
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