Hungary’s Orbán wants warmer EU-Russia ties to boost business

Viktor Orbán. Budapest, 2011. [Europa Pont]

Victor Orbán, who stated that Europe has “shot itself in foot” by imposing sanctions on Russia, told diplomats on Monday (25 August) that he would seek support from other EU countries to improve relations with Moscow.

Speaking to the annual gathering of Hungary’s ambassadors, the Hungarian prime minister again warned against further alienating Moscow, which the EU has put under sanctions for its role in Ukraine.

“The EU gets further from Russia every day … (This) is bad, not for Hungary, but the entire European Union,” he said in a speech outlining his newly-formed third government’s foreign policy priorities.

“We must seek the company of EU countries interested in the slowing or halting of this unfavourable separation process,” he said, adding that because central and eastern European countries had no consensus on the issue, they could not act together.

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.

The Hungarian prime minister added that Poland and the Baltic states considered the Russian issue foremost a security matter, a view not shared by Hungary. Orbán said his country looks upon Moscow as a business partner, and considers other aspects of the situation as secondary.

“Values are important, as NATO and the EU both rest on shared values, but that does not mean we should relate to countries outside our alliances based on their political culture, institutions, democracy, or any other views,” he said.

Addressing another issue that might put him at odds with Brussels, the prime minister promised a hard line on immigration.

“We must fight to keep this issue under national jurisdiction,” he said. “I make no secret of this: we will continue with a very tough policy that does not at all encourage immigration … For Europe to have general rules that affect all of us who think differently is out of the question.”

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.

  • 26 Aug.:  Poroshenko to attend Customs Union summit in Minsk;
  • 30 Aug.: EU leaders hold summit in Brussels;
  • 30 Aug.: Poroshenko to meet with EU leaders in Brussels;
  • 4-5 Sept.: Poroshenko to attend NATO summit in Cardiff.

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