For some time now, the European Union has viewed with concern —and growing boredom— Hungary’s constant distancing from the position of the Twenty-seven towards Russia due to its military offensive in Ukraine. The fact that it has done it again in the midst of escalating tensions, with Russia wielding a nuclear weapon against the West, seems to have exhausted Brussels’ patience. The European Commission has made Hungary ugly this Friday by the decision that its Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, met on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
As the Hungarian government has revealed on social networks, Viktor Orbán’s chief of diplomacy, who also visited Moscow this summer, in the midst of the war, is the only EU minister who has broken the European consensus of not speaking face to face face to face with the Russian representative at the annual meeting in New York; he even left his seat in the Security Council at the moment when the other participants took the floor during a special meeting dedicated to Ukraine.
“There is a consensus in the EU that, at the moment, it does not make sense to establish bilateral or EU-level relations with Russian representatives in the UN,” said the spokesman for the Commission for Foreign Affairs, Peter Stano, this Friday in Brussels. Although, ultimately, it is the “responsibility, competence and decision” of each member country to decide with whom it meets or not in New York, this appointment takes place “in a context of recent steps of escalation of [Vladímir] Putin that clearly demonstrate to the entire international community, including the EU and its member states, that he is not interested in peace, but only in continuing to escalate this illegal war with consequences for the whole world”, he recalled. In addition, the Russian president “is threatening the use of nuclear weapons”, in an attempt to “intimidate the countries that support Ukraine”, starting with the European neighbors. And that is, the spokesman underlined, paraphrasing the main officials of the EU in recent days, “irresponsible and unacceptable” for Europe.
In his face-to-face meeting with Lavrov in New York, the Hungarian minister acknowledged that holding peace talks is “unlikely” at this time, although he stressed that “peace will not be achieved without dialogue,” the Secretary of State assured on Friday. of International Communications of the Hungarian Government, Zoltán Kóvacs, on Twitter. In a series of messages on the social network, the spokesman also highlights that Szijjártó has been “the only EU Foreign Minister to meet with Lavrov” and justifies this open line of dialogue by indicating that “the Hungarian people and economy need the Russian energy this winter.” “You may or may not like this fact, but it is still a fact,” according to the head of Hungarian diplomacy, who has also posted a video of the meeting with his Russian counterpart on his Facebook account.
Both saw each other in Moscow last July, when Zsijjártó made a surprise trip to the Russian capital to ask the Kremlin to increase its gas shipments to Hungary, whose government remains one of Putin’s main supporters within the Twenty-seven. The visit took place just one day after the European Commission asked to save electricity for next winter in the middle of the “gas war” with Russia.
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Hungary has also been the country that has put the most obstacles to the imposition of sanctions on Russia for the war in Ukraine, although, as Brussels recalled this Friday, “all 27 Member States” of the EU agreed in an emergency meeting in New York this week to send more weapons to Ukraine and propose “as soon as possible” a new package of sanctions. However, Orbán has once again put a stone in the European gear: the ultra-nationalist leader announced that he is going to convene a “national consultation” on the advisability of sanctions, something that Brussels views with skepticism. “There is a very specific legal framework when it comes to imposing sanctions, it is a process set by treaties and EU legislation, it is not something that can be done on the basis of referendums,” the Commission recalled this Friday through their spokesmen.
The pulse between Budapest and Brussels is long and goes beyond their alliances with Russia: it comes from the authoritarian drift of the government of the ultra-conservative Fidesz party. Just this week, the Commission proposed the suspension of 7.5 billion euros of EU cohesion funds for Hungary for promoting “systematic corruption” in the management of money from the community budget, a fact that has led to Budapest, badly in need of these funds, to promise the immediate implementation of 17 corrective measures. Brussels, however, has made it clear that it expects much more than promises.
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