Why does Viktor Orbán keep voting for anti-Russia sanctions?

Russia thinks along the lines of pragmatic relations and cooperation. The Orbán government correctly realized the opportunity for partnership but it keeps voting for anti-Russia sanctions, contrary to Hungary’s national interests. Donald Trump’s victory means the end of an era, the new administration is a highly beneficial change from Hungary’s point of view. Budapest is offered the chance on a silver platter to be a mediator amongst Moscow, Washington and Brussels but the Orbán-Szijjártó tandem won’t be able to live up to this role. Hungary needs to enforce its national interests in the Germany-Russia-Turkey triangle. Before Putin’s visit on 2 February, we interviewed Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi, the vice chairman of the Hungarian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Two years ago in Budapest, Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin agreed to have annual meetings from then on. The kind of bilateral relation that the Hungarian PM and the Russian president maintains is unheard of in Europe. What might be the Russian leadership’s goal with these meetings? What are Russia’s geopolitical and European goals with Hungary?

Russian geostrategic thinking has essentially remained unchanged since tzar Peter the Great. This strategy is based on the concept that Russia should be surrounded by a ring of Moscow-friendly countries that are free of Western influence. This area, which we could call sphere of interest in the classic sense of the word, comprises of Russia’s immediate neighbours.

It is a total misunderstanding of the Russian geopolitical thinking if you believe that Russia only wishes to apply military expansion to enforce Russian influence or is ready to annex its supposed sphere of interest.

I am convinced that the annexation of Crimea was rather just a signal for Ukraine, which was eyeing the West. With regard to the areas beyond Russia’s immediate neighbourhood considered as its supposed sphere of interest however, Moscow thinks along the lines of pragmatic relations and cooperation. Russia quickly and correctly realized that the anti-Russia sanctions caused a tension in the European Union. Perhaps it’s not an exaggeration to say that losing the Russian market had a disastrous effect on practically all EU Member States.

Putin realized that this pact, which was imposed by way of the EU’s typical self-destructive short-sightedness and political arm-twisting, could be undermined with the help of some member states that are willing to confront the majority opinion.

And he did find his partner in the Hungarian government, which Brussels had treated as a dissenter for many years. We must admit that Viktor Orbán correctly realized this opportunity as well. What I still don’t understand is why Viktor Orbán signed the anti-Russia sanctions and why he votes for each renewal again and again, even though he actually admits what Jobbik has been saying for years, i.e., that these sanctions are contrary to our national interests and are harmful for us.

What does the result of the US elections mean for Hungary in an atmosphere that is reminiscent of the cold war?

Trump’s victory in the US elections means the end of an era. As of yet, it’s hard to see how much room Trump has and whether he can succeed with the agenda he outlined. There seems to be plenty of resistance even within his own party and the entire US establishment, too. What we can already see is that Trump, alhough he might not completely abandon the messianic US geopolitical agenda fuelled to the maximum and applied by the United States ever since the end of the cold war, he will at least tone it down. The essence of this agenda is to globally expand Western influence under the disguise of humanism by promoting democracy and neoliberal economics as well as capitalism in general. The election of a mainstream Republican president or that of Hillary Clinton would just have continued this trend, thus likely paving the way for a terrible, perhaps even disastrous outcome.

The new US administration is quite a favourable change from Hungary’s point of view, since we all know that negative impacts of geopolitical conflicts are multiplied exponentially at the meeting and clashing points of civilisations and the interests of great powers, and Hungary lies right in the centre of this tense spot.

How can a close Russia-Hungary relationship affect the potentially revitalizing US-Hungary relations?

The Orbán government has a historic opportunity now as Orbán maintains excellent relations with Russian president Putin and, taking a gambler’s risk, he also placed his bet on Trump back last summer. So, the opportunity now comes on a silver platter for Budapest to become a mediator amongst Moscow, Washington and Brussels, avoiding a a new cold war. In order to do so however, you need a Hungarian diplomacy which, apart from the occasional business deals and communicating statistical figures on our exports and GDP, functions at least at the present level of Belarus whose diplomacy was totally isolated before. Lukashenko’s foreign ministry was excellent in sensing the opportunity that they could become a mediator in the Ukrainian crisis, and launched the Minsk process.

However, the Orbán-Szíjjártó tandem has demonstrated such clumsiness even when promoting good causes and sacrificed foreign political interests at the altar of domestic gains that I am afraid they won’t be able to live up to this mediator role.

Let me note how unfortunate that is, since it would be Hungary’s national interest beyond any partisanship.

Considering the current international relations, how realistic is the triple reference point of a Germany-Russia-Turkey foreign policy triangle, which was first introduced by Jobbik’s president and later adopted by Viktor Orbán as well?

Like it or not, this is the reality, this is the triangle in which Hungary needs to enforce its national interests. It is almost an impossible venture because the interests of the three “neighbouring” great powers are hardly ever aligned in a constellation favourable for Hungary, but we must nonetheless manage Hungarian interests in this triangle, using a delicately balanced approach.