U.S., Hungary Exchange Barbs Over ‘Difficult’ Relationship

Ukraine Crisis

In this photo released by the Prime Minister’s Press Office, Viktor Orbán (left) and former U.S. President Donald Trump talk before their sit-down meeting at Trump’s residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, on March 8.

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

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with former U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida on March 8. Afterward, Orbán told TV news channel M1 that if Trump were reelected, he would end the war in Ukraine by depriving the country of support from the United States.

“He will not give a penny into the Ukraine-Russia war, and therefore, the war will end as it is obvious that Ukraine on its own cannot stand on its feet,” Orbán said. “If the Americans do not give money and weapons, and also the Europeans, then this war will be over,” he continued, “and if the Americans do not give money, the Europeans are unable to finance this war on their own, and then the war will end.”

Orbán has been a longtime supporter of Trump, who is once again the presumptive Republican nominee for this November’s U.S. presidential election. The Hungarian PM broke with precedent in meeting with Trump and not the sitting head of state, President Joe Biden, with whom the Hungarian PM has a much frostier relationship.

Asked whether he was concerned about Orbán meeting with Trump, Biden replied, “If I’m not, you should be.” At a campaign event, Biden said to his supporters of Trump: “You know who he’s meeting with today down in Mar-a-Lago? Orbán of Hungary, who stated flatly he doesn’t think democracy works, he’s looking for a dictatorship,” Biden said, adding, “I see a future where we defend democracy, not diminish it.”

Ambassador Summoned

In response, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said that he had summoned U.S. Ambassador David Pressman to his ministry to answer for the comments made by the President. Szijjártó said the ambassador was asked to provide the quote Biden had referred to regarding Orbán’s disbelief in democracy.

“Obviously, no such statement was made, so no substantive response of any kind was forthcoming,” Szijjártó added. “We’re not obliged to tolerate such lies from anyone, even if that person is the President of the United States.”

The American position that Hungary was “building a dictatorship” was making bilateral relations “extremely difficult,” the foreign minister said, adding that questioning the democratic choice of Hungarian voters is an “insult.”

At a U.S. Embassy event on March 14, marking the 25th anniversary of Hungary joining NATO, Pressman said that despite being a longtime friend and ally, Hungary has been doing things that undermine trust and friendship, raising concerns among NATO allies that, he said, “cannot be ignored.”

Such concerns include a government “that labels and treats the United States an ‘adversary’ while making policy choices that increasingly isolate it from friends and allies,” Pressman said.

‘Cannot Understand’

The United States “cannot ignore the speaker of Hungary’s National Assembly claiming that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war in Ukraine is in fact ‘led by the United States,’” Pressman added. “We cannot understand or accept that the prime minister identifies the United States as the ‘main adversary’ of [….] Hungary.”

The ambassador also noted that Hungary’s expanding relationship with Russia raised “legitimate security concerns.”

In addition to celebrating the 25th anniversary of its accession to NATO on March 14, Hungary commemorated the start of its 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence against Austrian Habsburg rule on March 15. In a busy international calendar, Russia held its presidential election between March 15-17.

At a rally in Budapest on March 16, Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who recently died under suspicious circumstances in prison, issued a statement against Vladimir Putin.

“In every speech I make, I emphasize one thing: Putin is not Russia. Russia is not Putin. And Hungary is not Orbán either. This is what you prove here today. Democratic and free Hungary has allies, tens of millions of my fellow citizens who also want to live in a democratic and free Russia.”

Putin subsequently won a fifth term as President of Russia in an election widely considered neither free nor fair. The presidential term is now six years, and under the current system, Putin could stand for one more term, meaning he could be in power until 2036.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 22, 2024.

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