Could B9 Become B8 Over Hungary’s Actions on Ukraine, Russia?

Ukraine Crisis

In this file photo, released by the Press Office of the Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán (left) is interviewed by Zsolt Törőcsik on “Good Morning, Hungary!” at the Óbuda studio of Kossuth Rádió.

Photo by Zoltán Fischer / Prime Minister’s Press Office / MTI

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claimed a victory for “advocates for peace” following the European Parliament elections held in Hungary on Sunday, June 9, in which the Fidesz-KDNP (Christian Democrat) alliance won 44.6% of the vote. The PM had touted the election as a “chance” to stop the war during an interview with Kossuth Rádió two days before the election on Friday, June 7.

Due to what he perceived as “war psychosis” in Europe, Orbán had warned of an “advance towards conflict at a faster pace,” adding that it had come “very close” to the “point of no return.” Following Sunday’s results, Orbán said that the EP elections had been an opportunity to slow the “drift toward war. If we see it this way, then we got what we wanted,” he added.

Orbán pointed out that support for “pro-peace” parties had been so great in France that it persuaded President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the National Assembly and call for snap elections scheduled for June 30 and July 7. Macron’s Renaissance party had garnered just half of the share of the vote secured by Marine Le Pen’s right-wing populist party, National Rally (RN), in the EP elections.

In light of his diminished mandate at home, Macron hopes to coalesce other moderate parties into a “republican front” against the burgeoning RN with the two-round election. Gleefully, Orbán reflected that a “transatlantic peace coalition” could take shape if Donald Trump returns to the White House in November.

“Now we’re waiting for President Donald Trump to bring victory in the United States in the second half, and then there will be peace,” Orbán added.

Driven by the country’s “absolute position on the side of peace,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 6 that Hungary would participate at a foreign ministerial level in a Ukraine peace summit due to be hosted by Switzerland on June 15. He added that the Hungarian government regretted that both warring parties would not be present at the conference, as Russia would not be attending.

“We believe that if everyone were at the negotiating table, real results could be expected,” the foreign minister said.

Russian Energy Ties

Szijjártó had attended the economic forum in St. Petersburg to affirm energy ties with the Kremlin. Hungary remained satisfied with its cooperation with Russia on gas supplies and had no plans to curtail purchasing gas from Moscow despite external pressure, the minister said. He added that the issue of energy supply had been “taken hostage by political and ideological debates,” while Hungary viewed the matter as a “purely practical one,” a function of mathematics and physics. This perspective drew critical remarks from the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman.

“Hungary’s addiction to Russian energy is dangerous and unnecessary,” Pressman said. “Minister Szijjártó is right: energy diversification is not a matter of ideology but physics. The laws of physics in Hungary are no different from the laws of physics in any of Hungary’s EU partners who have chosen to reduce their dependence on Putin,” the U.S. diplomat added.

“The Hungarian government says it is on the side of peace, but it is actually on the side of war led by Putin,” Pressman claimed.

Similarly frustrated with Hungary’s continued cultivation of close ties to Russia and reluctance to provide support to Ukraine, the Bucharest Nine (B9), a group of European countries on the eastern edge of NATO, said that it had discussed the possibility of excluding Hungary from future meetings.

The discussions on excluding Budapest are “very serious,” said one B9 diplomat, adding, “We are likely meeting in this format for the last time.” President Tamás Sulyok chose not to attend the recent meeting in Riga on June 11 (Hungary was represented by its ambassador to Latvia), which Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics said allowed the group a “more coordinated approach” towards supporting Ukraine.

That said, the summit ended without a joint declaration of the nine countries for the first time since the format was established in 2015, Rinkevics’ office added. Instead, a statement was issued in the name of the presidents of Latvia, Romania, and Poland, who jointly hosted the Riga gathering. The group currently includes Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, all former members of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact and now NATO and EU states.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 14, 2024.

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