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PM Orbán says US-Hungarian friendship must withstand divergence over the war in Ukraine

April 17th, 2023

An opposition-leaning columnist finds the deterioration in US-Hungarian relations worrisome but believes neither of the two parties want to deepen the enmity any further. A pro-government commentator sees the discord as a conflict between the US Left and Right rather than one between two countries.

In his regular biweekly radio interview, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said the United States is Hungary’s key friend and ally despite their diverging views on the war in Ukraine. ‘Our friendship,’ he said ‘must be able to withstand that disagreement’. He added that the tone of bilateral relations depends on whether the US government is in Democrat or Republican hands. He called the billboard campaign over the Ukraine war which is sponsored by the US Embassy ‘unusual’.(See BudaPost, April 13).

In Magyar Hang, Szabolcs Szerető describes the tone US Ambassador David Pressman struck at his press conference as ‘moderate’: he didn’t quell the tempest, Szerető writes, nor did he escalate the conflict. (See BudaPost, April 14.) As to the background to the conflict, he believes that for want of noteworthy domestic adversaries, Prime Minister Orbán appears to be seeking heavyweight international opponents – and Washington seems to fit that bill. Not that Szerető sees the US administration above reproach – tapping the phone calls of allied leaders and tough moves to put through American interests, he writes, may fairly be criticized. He believes nonetheless that the Hungarian government is wrong on Ukraine. Szerető describes the Hungarian attitude as ‘a phony pro-peace stance’ which served electoral purposes last year but has since become a hindrance in Hungary’s relations with her allies. He also thinks Hungary is maintaining good relations with Russia well above the level dictated by energy constraints (namely Hungary’s dependence on Russian oil and gas supplies). Szerető finds it peculiar for the government side not to dismiss reports about the Prime Minister mentioning the Biden administration among ‘the adversaries’ when addressing his fellow Fidesz MPs in February. However, ‘the Empire’, he writes, ‘doesn’t strike back – for the moment’.

By contrast, Mandiner’s Gergely Szilvay believes that the controversy is not a conflict between Hungary and the United States but rather one opposing America’s Left and Right. He starts out by suggesting that Hungary has become a ‘secondary diplomatic battlefield’ of the Ukraine war which he describes as a proxy war between the United States and Russia. That explains, in his view, why US diplomacy keeps Hungary under pressure. Nevertheless, he also sees the announcements made by the US Ambassador as surprisingly mild, compared to earlier speculation about harsh sanctions on unnamed prominent Hungarian personalities. At any rate, he continues, ‘Hungary has taken note and quit the International Investment Bank’ after the latter was hit by US sanctions. As to why the US has refrained from harsher measures against Hungary, Szilvay puts forward an original theory, namely that the State Department cannot be sure about the outcome of next year’s presidential elections in the United States. The Hungarian government, he explains, is not an adversary of the United States – it is only seen with suspicion by the Democratic administration. Fidesz is on excellent terms with former President Trump while Florida governor Ron DeSantis, another potential Republican presidential nominee is sometimes called an ‘American Orbán’. People in the State Department, Szilvay suggests, must be moving with caution in confronting an ally of the potential next President of the United States.




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