What is Hungary’s stance on Russia, the EU and NATO?

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have been in a war of words since Russia invaded Ukraine

Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin have close ties (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

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Popular at home, the leader of right-wing populist party Fidesz is a divisive figure on the international stage, accused of undermining Hungarian democracy and expressing racist and anti-LGBTQ+ views.

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He is currently attracting further controversy among Hungary’s allies in the EU and NATO over his stance on the Russia-Ukraine war and his relationship with President Vladimir Putin.

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Viktor Orban has won a fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s prime minister (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

So what is Hungary’s position towards Russia, the EU and NATO?

Here’s everything you need to know.

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How does Hungary relate to Russia?

Hungary’s relationship with Russia is complicated.

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The country was one of the Axis powers that fought alongside Nazi Germany in World War II and took part in Hitler’s 1941 invasion of Russia.

After World War II, it became a satellite state of the Soviet Union and in 1955 was one of the founding members of the Warsaw Pact – the USSR’s answer to NATO.

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Hungary’s 1956 uprising was violently crushed by the Soviet Union’s military (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

Just over a year after the so-called “Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance” was signed, a revolution in the state capital, Budapest, was violently crushed by Soviet troops.

That legacy was central when Viktor Orban first rose to prominence in 1989 as a pro-Western, progressive, pro-free market student leader.

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Shortly after the fall of the USSR’s puppet government in Hungary, Mr Orban made a prominent speech at the re-funeral of revolutionary leader Imre Nagy, in which he said: “The communists have taken our future away from us.”

But while Hungary joined NATO under Mr Orban’s premiership in 1999, he has sought much closer ties with Moscow since his re-election in 2010.

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He shares a similar conservative political stance and “strongman” approach to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, including a contempt for LGBTQ+ rights.

Viktor Orban visited Russian President Vladimir Putin just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Orban described the February 1 visit to Moscow as a “peace mission”, trading jokes with Putin and celebrating the couple’s longevity in office.

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Orban even expressed admiration for the size of Putin’s infamously long meeting table.

The countries have also developed close economic ties, with Hungary relying heavily on Russia for its energy supply – around 60% of its oil and 85% of its gas comes from Russia.

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Hungary is heavily dependent on Russian gas imports (Image: AFP/Getty images)

At the meeting between President Putin and Mr. Orban in February 2022, the Russian leader underlined the fact that Hungary pays cheap prices for its gas due to long-term contracts with Russia.

It was a clear warning to EU countries that depend on Russian energy imports but have since either been cut off from supplies or are actively trying to reduce their dependence on Russian energy.

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When Russia invaded Ukraine, Hungary joined other European countries and its NATO members in denouncing Putin’s actions.

But apart from signing a package of sanctions, it has refused to go further.

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Indeed, Hungary has slowed down further EU sanctions by, for example, requesting an opt-out from the bloc’s planned oil ban.

During the Hungarian elections, the opposition accused Mr Orban of watching “Putin rebuild the Soviet empire”.

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Hungary’s opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay wanted the country to give more support to Ukraine (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

How does Hungary see the EU?

Hungary has been a member of the European Union since 2004.

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Viktor Orban has consistently railed against the bloc since the 2008 financial crisis – an event that prompted many ordinary Hungarians to blame “political elites” and mainstream politics for the failure of their country’s economy.

Viktor Orban has been a central figure in Hungarian politics for more than 30 years (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Orban has fought many battles with Brussels since then, most notably during the 2015 refugee crisis when he all but sealed off Hungary to refugees by erecting barbed wire and deploying water cannons along the country’s border.

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At an EU meeting, former EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker even greeted him with the words: “Hello, dictator!”

But despite holding many of the levers of power since 2010, he has never attempted to take Hungary out of the EU.

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Europe was a main theme of the United for Hungary opposition campaign against Mr Orban during the 2022 Hungarian elections.

One of their central slogans was “Orban or Europe” as they tried to persuade Hungarians that they should align the country to the west and not to Russia and China.

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However, this attempt to reorient Hungarian European policy was rejected at the ballot box.

Despite being an anti-EU figure, Viktor Orban has supported the bloc’s sanctions against Russia.

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Viktor Orban (pictured with then-US President Bill Clinton) was previously Hungary’s Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002 (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

What is Hungary’s NATO stance?

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Mr Orban has walked a political tightrope so as not to alienate Hungary’s allies to the west or east.

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While Mr Orban has allowed NATO to station troops in western Hungary, he has banned military shipments from crossing the country’s eastern border into Ukraine.

On April 1, while still campaigning, Mr Orban claimed that supplying arms to Ukraine would make Hungary a military target.

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“This is not our war, we have to stay out of it,” Orban said.

This view means that Hungary is the only country in the EU and NATO that has not sought direct financial or military support from Ukraine.

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