Commenting on the government’s foreign affairs strategy, most left-wing and liberal commentators accuse PM Orbán of selling out to Moscow. Right-wing pundits, on the other hand, defend what they see as the government’s pragmatic and balanced foreign affairs vision. Some moderate analysts castigate mindless exaggerations and ideologically motivated approaches on both sides.
On Wednesday, in an exclusive meeting with Hungarian journalists after Russian President Putin’s visit to Budapest, PM Orbán outlined his foreign affairs vision. As Heti Világgazdaság and Népszabadság reported, PM Orbán said that there is no unity in the EU concerning the Ukraine crisis and Russia. While the Baltic States and Poland want to isolate Moscow, Germany and France represent more inclusive attitudes. Concerning the US, PM Orbán said that Washington has lately adopted an attitude whereby rather than cooperating with them, it requires them to simply follow its lead. In a separate comment, Mr Orbán praised Colleen Bell, the new US ambassador to Hungary, whom he considered less ideologically motivated than André Goodfriend, the former Chargé d’Affaires. The Prime Minister acknowledged that the Hungarian-Russian relationship is a “tough issue” but added that “Hungary would be worse off without cooperation with Russia”.
Népszabadság accuses the prime minister of merely following his interests rather than principles. In an editorial, the daily describes PM Orbán’s recent diplomatic efforts to cooperate with Russia as a move to loosen his dependence on Hungary’s western allies. Mr Orbán’s has only economic reasons to maintain good ties with the EU, Népszabadság contends and claims that the Prime Minister “hates the EU’s democratic and principled efforts” to curb his power.
In Népszava, Tamás Mészáros predicts that in the long run, PM Orbán’s effort to walk the tight rope between Russia and the EU is doomed to fail. Russia is interested in Hungary only as long as it can reap benefits from such cooperation, but if Moscow fails to polarize the EU countries, Hungary will soon become isolated in Europe. Mészáros thinks that the gas supply agreement and other deals agreed by Putin and Orbán (see BudaPost February 19) have no real benefits for Hungary.
It is wrong to sacrifice principles in exchange for economic benefits, Gergely Szilvay suggests on Mandiner. In a comment on PM Orbán’s Warsaw visit (see BudaPost February 21), the conservative analyst admits that Russia is a major power and is important for Hungary, but adds that in the current geopolitical setting the Hungarian government cannot be friendly with Moscow and expect that this will not be harshly criticized by European countries. Instead of Russia, Hungary should side with Europe and NATO, Szilvay concludes.
Merkel’s and Putin’s visits have strengthened PM Orbán, Gábor Török believes. The centrist analyst points out that German Chancellor Merkel was less critical towards the Hungarian Prime Minister and Putin’s visit was also less awkward than many on the Left hoped. In his public appearances, “PM Orbán seemed strong and important rather than weak and vulnerable, ”Török remarks. He is uncertain,however, if the two visits will in the long run prove beneficial.
Magyar Hírlap’s István Lovas claims that the gas supply deal agreed by Putin and Orbán may save as much as 7 billion USD for Hungary. The pro-government columnist likens PM Orbán’s efforts to balance between Moscow and the West to Tito’s cold war strategy. By remaining in the middle, Tito could play the great powers off against each other, and build a prosperous semi-Western state.
Writing in the same daily, Zsolt Bayer accuses left-wing and liberal critics of serving foreign propaganda interests, when they falsely claimed that Putin commemorated Soviet soldiers who died in the 1956 Hungarian revolution (see BudaPost February 19). The pro-government commentator recalls the New York Times’ report, according to which the Hungarian government tried to make Putin’s Budapest visit as low key as possible.
PM Orbán has sent a strong message that he will not become a subservient vassal of the US, Gyula T. Máté comments on the Prime Minister’s foreign affairs strategy in Magyar Hírlap. The conservative pundit believes that PM Orbán was concerned about Hungary’s sovereignty both when in the 1990s he became a strong advocate of the US presence in Hungary and in his current “Eastern opening” efforts. PM Orbán wants to defend Hungarian interests when he is unwilling to become hostile to Moscow as Washington would expect, Máté concludes.
Liberals and the Left have been infected by “war psychosis”, Cink’s Albert Gazda suspects. The liberal commentator finds it peculiar that both liberals and leftists want to “annihilate and defeat” Russia at any price, and express similar hopes concerning PM Orbán, whom they see as an uncritical vassal of Putin. Gazda wonders how extreme this paranoia would become if Hungary became directly involved in the Ukraine crisis. In conclusion, he reckons that without cooperating with Russia, neither political and economic stability, nor security can be maintained in Europe.
Writing in Népszava, Róbert Friss finds it disappointing that President Putin’s visit has further deepened the cleavage between Left and Right in Hungary. While the Right has fallen in love with Russia and exaggerates the benefits of cooperating with Putin, the Left would “erase Russia from the face of the Earth” through economic sanctions, if not with weapons, the left-wing columnist remarks.
It is absurd to see how Left and Right have switched their Russian sympathies and antipathies, Mandiner comments in an editorial. The formerly staunchly anti-communist and anti-Russian Right has become pro-Putin, while the Left which used to equate contemporary anti-communist rhetoric with far-right radicalism has embraced an anti-Russian stance, Mandiner contends. The peculiar shift in positions towards Russia shows that those in government seem to be always more moderate and interest-centred, while the opposition tends to take a principled anti-Russian course, Mandiner suggests.