Orbán’s Moscow Visit: Can Hungary’s PM Bridge the EU-Russia Divide?

Orbán's Moscow gambit tests EU unity as Hungary's leader seeks peace deal amid institutional constraints.  .

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Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary is actively engaged in the pursuit of a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. On July 1, his country assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union. He is in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin following his recent visit to Kyiv to meet with Volodymyr Zelensky. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto will accompany Orban to the Kremlin, as reported by Radio Liberty, citing a source from the Hungarian government.

During their meeting in Kyiv, Orban advised Zelensky to contemplate the idea of embracing a “rapid ceasefire” in order to expedite the commencement of negotiations with Russia, with the aim of bringing an end to the ongoing conflict. Kyiv has clarified that this suggestion will not be taken into consideration.

Putin: “Negotiate conflict resolution first, only then a truce

Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed that he will not declare a ceasefire in Ukraine unless Kyiv agrees to the preconditions established by Moscow. He clarified that Ukraine would use the truce to resupply its forces in anticipation of future attacks, as it had done following the truce established by the Minsk agreements. Consequently, the Russian President believes that the initial step should be to negotiate a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

“We cannot allow the enemy to use this ceasefire to improve its situation in order to be ready to continue the armed conflict,” Putin said at the end of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.

EU’s Stance

However, Brussels has expressed its disapproval of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s action, as European Council President Charles Michel has made it abundantly clear on social media: “The rotating presidency of the EU does not have the mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU. The European Council is clear: Russia is the aggressor, and Ukraine is the victim. No discussion about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine.”

Orban emphasized that his visit was associated with the continuance of peace efforts, particularly during the NATO summit’s lead-up. He acknowledged that he lacks the authority to negotiate on behalf of the entire European Union, but he is certain that peace in Ukraine cannot be achieved from a comfortable chair in Brussels. He believes the conflict can be resolved through active participation and tangible actions.

The EU Rotating Presidency and Hungary’s Position

As Hungary assumes the EU’s rotating presidency, it finds itself in a delicate position. While EU member states retain control over their foreign policies, Hungary’s ability to negotiate with Russia on the EU’s behalf is severely limited. Despite chairing most Council meetings, Hungary must adhere to the EU’s unified approach to foreign affairs, particularly regarding major international issues like the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The EU’s stance on Russia, including sanctions, remains firm. Despite its historically closer ties with Russia under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Hungary cannot unilaterally alter this position during its presidency. The rotating presidency’s role in external relations is primarily organizational, lacking the mandate for significant foreign policy negotiations.

European Council President Charles Michel’s recent statement unequivocally affirms that Hungary, as the rotating presidency holder, lacks the authority to engage with Russia on the EU’s behalf. This declaration effectively closes any potential loopholes regarding Hungary’s diplomatic reach in this sensitive area.

The Shifting Political Landscape in Europe

The European political landscape is evolving, with right-wing representation in the European Parliament on the rise. This shift could potentially create a more receptive environment for Orbán’s viewpoints. As traditionally influential pro-EU voices like Macron’s lose some of their efficacy, space opens up for alternative perspectives on EU-Russia relations.

Orbán may find more allies among right-wing MEPs from other countries who share his views. While he can’t directly change policy, he could significantly influence the debate and narrative surrounding EU-Russia relations in this new climate. This shift is also pressuring centrist parties to reassess their positions to maintain voter support.

Right-wing parties across Europe have varying stances towards Russia. Some, like Italy’s Lega, France’s National Rally, and Hungary’s Fidesz, have historically been more open to dialogue with Moscow. These parties often find common ground with Russia in their skepticism of EU policies, admiration for traditional values and strong leadership, and prioritization of national interests over EU solidarity.

However, the landscape is complex. Some right-wing parties have distanced themselves from pro-Russian positions following the invasion of Ukraine, while others maintain their stance. The extent of Russian support for certain right-wing parties remains a subject of debate.

Looking Forward

As the composition of the EU Parliament shifts in response to national political changes, more governments sympathetic to Orbán’s views may emerge. While dramatic, immediate changes are unlikely, Orbán could potentially influence a gradual shift in EU policy over time if this political trend continues. The situation remains fluid, with the potential for significant long-term impacts on EU-Russia relations and the broader European political landscape.


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