It's hardly the first time Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has tussled with European leaders. This week, he stepped up his criticism of the bloc's Russia policy.
After a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Budapest on Thursday, Mr. Orbán condemned the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia, according to a report in Die Zeit, a sister publication of Handelsblatt.
“Unfortunately, in the western half of the continent, anti-Russian policy has become fashionable,” Mr. Orbán said at a joint press conference.
Thursday’s summit in the Hungarian capital was the third meeting between the two statesmen in as many years.
Mr. Orbán, the leader of the conservative Fidesz party since 2003, started his political career as a staunchly pro-Western activist who in 1989 demanded the withdrawal of the “Russian occupier” from his country.
But ever since he became Hungary’s prime minister in 2010, he has morphed into Moscow’s closest ally within the E.U. and one of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most vocal critics.
[The sanctions] have failed, and it would be best if they were lifted Péter Szijjártó, Hungarian Foreign Minister
In April 2014, Budapest signed a controversial €10-billion ($10.8-billion) loan agreement with Moscow for an upgrade of the Paks power plant, the only nuclear plant in Hungary.
A few months later, Mr. Orbán started voicing his admiration for what he described as “illiberal democracies” in countries like Russia and Turkey and implied he would like to emulate this model. These statements drew sharp rebuke from his E.U. partners, not least of all from Germany's Ms. Merkel.
Two years ago, he received Mr. Putin in Budapest, making Hungary the first NATO country to welcome the Russian head of state after his annexation of Ukraine's Crimea. On that occasion, Mr. Orbán called for a “strategic partnership” between Hungary and Russia.
Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign minister, lambasted the E.U.’s sanctions even more fiercely. "They have failed, and it would be best if they were lifted," he said after ministerial talks.
Mr. Putin confirmed Thursday that Russian gas supplies to Hungary would be secure and said a pipeline linking both countries across Ukraine would be a conceivable solution. “If it is economically viable, if it is reliable, then we do not rule out a transit through Ukraine,” he said.
Hungary, a small, landlocked country in Eastern Europe, is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supplies: It supplies 80 percent of Hungary’s gas needs.
Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected].