Espreso. Global

Trojan horse: Orban is neither friend nor mediator to Ukraine

3 July, 2024 Wednesday

There's a saying about a man who swallows a frog, convincing himself that it's delicious


Viktor Orban looked similar during his 'unexpected' visit to Kyiv and conversation with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A spokesperson for the Hungarian Prime Minister stated that Orban proposed two main topics for discussion: "European peace" and "the development of bilateral relations."

“Hungary's approach towards Ukraine has indeed been reminiscent of a figurative 'frog.' Nevertheless, the realities of Europe, Europe's readiness to aid Ukraine, and its resistance against Russia and China's imperial ambitions compel Orban to swallow this 'frog' and recognize his position in European geopolitics.”

We've just discussed the eleven points of Hungarian demands towards Ukraine in the European integration process that were recently published. One international publication aptly labeled them as 'demands to acknowledge the 'Hungarianness' of Transcarpathia.' The publication noted that despite Ukraine suffering from Russian aggression and truly needing support, Ukrainians will never agree to such an ultimatum.

Orban appeared peculiar when discussing the necessity of an "immediate truce with Russia" in Kyiv, despite not insisting on it.

Let's revisit the '11 demands for Ukraine'. Hungary similarly 'warned' Slovakia and Romania concerning their NATO and EU memberships. At that time, Budapest, as it does now, issued ultimatums to Bratislava and Bucharest, demanding satisfaction for the rights of the Hungarian minority and the legislative enshrinement of the 'historic Hungarian character' of Transylvania (northwestern Romania) and 'Northern Hungary' (Slovakia). The statements of Hungarian politicians were so severe and public sentiment so heated that it seemed only a spark was needed to ignite an armed conflict.

“What remains of those statements and sentiments today, after Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia have become members of the EU and NATO? Membership in Euro-Atlantic structures has proven the most effective remedy for resolving the most difficult historical issues and forming the current political landscape.”

We have every reason to believe that Hungary's 'demands' of Ukraine will follow a similar path. After all, Budapest previously raised similar concerns during negotiations for our country's visa-free regime with the EU in 2017, upon receiving candidate status in 2022, and at the onset of EU membership negotiations this year. However, following 'gestures' from our government, Orban withdrew his objections. Perhaps pivotal was Chancellor Olaf Scholz's approach to Hungary, advising Orban during the vote for financial aid to Ukraine: 'Viktor, let's have coffee.'

The Ukrainian government should review Hungarian proposals, present its position, and staunchly defend Ukrainian national interests. I am confident a compromise can be achieved. Hungary plays with openly declared intentions not just towards Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia.

This concerns Budapest's territorial revisionism. Influential factions in Hungary are seeking to 'revise the Treaty of Trianon,' the outcome of the 1920 peace treaty concluding World War I with Austria and Hungary, the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hungary had previously 'revised' these results from 1939 to 1945, aligning itself with the Third Reich. However, following World War II, Hungary was compelled to revert to the 'Trianon borders.'

“We recall Orban's 2014 statement on 'Hungarian autonomy' in Transcarpathia, coinciding with Russian incursions into Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions. We also recall Hungary's overtly pro-Russian stance post-February 24, 2022. Budapest advocated for Ukraine's 'inevitable defeat' and the necessity to 'make peace with Russia,' interpreted by the Kremlin as Ukraine's surrender and the dismantling of our state and nation.”

In summary, to understand Moscow's true objectives, one need only heed Orban's statements and those of his subordinates, concluding that Moscow has endorsed Hungarian revisionism. Yet every action has limits, especially in relations with Russia.

In late April 2023, Pope Francis visited Budapest for the second time during his papacy. This was unusual, as the Roman Pontiff seldom visits the same country consecutively. Ostensibly, the visit aimed to meet with the Orthodox Metropolitan of Budapest and All Hungary, Hilarion Alfeyev. Until June 2022, he led the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and was second only to Patriarch Kirill.

Experts viewed Hilarion's reassignment to Budapest following his dismissal as a demotion within the hierarchy, although Budapest, as Russia's staunch ally, had become a vital hub for special operations in Europe and a platform for continuing 'special relations' with the Vatican.

Francis's Hungarian visit coincided with the Apostolic See promoting its 'peace plan,' part of which involved the release of eleven Ukrainian prisoners of war from Transcarpathia.

They arrived in Hungary amidst claims that the Ukrainian soldiers were of Hungarian origin, though most who returned to Ukraine denied this. Instead, Moscow asserted they were representatives of the 'Carpatho-Russian population.'

“Over the past two years, we've witnessed Hungary's designated role by the Kremlin in the 'struggle for peace on Russia's terms.' It is not an agent of politics, a creator, or even a mediator, but a mouthpiece for Moscow's preferred messages—a 'Trojan horse' in the EU and NATO, and a convenient stage for Putin's intricate maneuvers.”

Now, regarding Orban personally, a politician whose aspirations to carve out an independent role in European and global politics have faltered, visited Kyiv for talks. He failed to establish a 'third Europe' capable of maneuvering between the EU and Russia. His ties with China were severely strained following EU tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles and other products. While he is aligned with Donald Trump, Trump has yet to secure the US presidency. Furthermore, it remains uncertain whether a potential Republican administration will withdraw America from NATO or dismantle the EU.

During the recent European Parliament elections, Orban also failed to establish a formidable institution capable of significantly altering the EU's power dynamics. The balance has remained unchanged, thanks to the strong showing of the European People's Party and the ongoing influence of the Social Democrats. Ursula von der Leyen will continue to lead the European Commission, despite Orban's dissenting vote during the European Council meeting, where he stood alone among EU member state leaders.

“This incident symbolizes Viktor Orban's defeat and underscores his limited influence over European politics.”

In conclusion, it is positive that Viktor Orban visited Kyiv, particularly at the outset of Hungary's EU presidency. This highlights the near consensus within the European Union regarding Russia's aggression towards our country. The EU remains steadfast in its support for Ukraine. This visit underscores that Ukraine is viewed on par with the EU in terms of its present and future prospects.

This unity is a testament to the resilience of the Ukrainian people, their government's cohesion, and societal solidarity. Above all, it honors the heroism of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, without whom any political analysis would be in vain.

Viktor Orban has realized that neglecting Ukraine would portray Hungary as overly aligned with the Kremlin, potentially jeopardizing Hungary's standing within the EU and NATO. Acknowledging these realities provides an opportunity to turn a new page in Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. Amid the global challenges of war and peace confronting Ukraine, this may seem like a modest goal. Nevertheless, within the current context of our bilateral relations, negotiating and signing an interstate agreement is both necessary and achievable.

It's important to remember that the Hungarian leader will not become a friend to Ukraine, nor will he mediate peace talks. Instead, he must simply become a predictable and reliable neighbor to our country.

About the author. Mykola Kniazhytskyi, journalist, member of the Ukrainian parliament.

The editors don't always share the opinions expressed by the authors of blogs or columns.

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