A few days ago, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó voiced loud allegations against the authorities of the European states. He stated that they criticized Hungary, expressing their claims for too friendly relations with Russia, while they themselves were secretly engaged in big business with Russia and hide it behind "superficial quarrels." The Hungarian minister accused European countries of having double standards, noting that the Hungarians are already fed up with it all. This is not the first similar demarche of the Hungarian minister. In 2016, he said that he would never accept the approach of large European countries with a high level of GDP that easily cooperate with Russia and accuse small countries of being engaged in relations with Moscow, of neglecting the common European unity and espionage. Last year, Szijjártó admitted that he taught Russian at school and at university and he likes to watch Russia 24 and RT TV channels. Szijjártó’s statement should be taken as a reflection of the position of the official Budapest, which is interested in business cooperation with Moscow and is in a kind of confrontation with Brussels and Kyiv.
Mutual interests of Orban and Putin
We should not take Szijjártó’s too literally. Hungarians do not actually like Russians and do not want to return under Moscow’s influence, like during the Cold War. Even Szijjártó does not believe that Moscow influences Budapest policy. The fact is that Hungary is using the contradictions of the European Union and Russia, trying to get some economic benefits. In September, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Moscow and, at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, thanked him for the fact that both countries had increased trade over the past year despite the anti-Russian sanctions. Putin considers Hungary one of Russia's key partners in Europe.
Hungary ranks 22nd among Russian trade and economic partners, the economy of this country has lost $ 6.5 billion due to the anti-Russian sanctions. In 2016, the Hungarian government called on the Russian Federation to abolish the restrictive response measures for most of its products. For 8 months of 2018, the trade turnover of Russia and Hungary amounted to $ 4.5 billion. Hungarian-Russian trade growth was provoked by the increase in purchases of Hungarian machinery and equipment by Russian companies by 31.5%, chemical products by 26%, vehicles, consumer goods, and food products by 6–8%. Hungary increased its grain export to Russia by 88%. Hungarian medicines manufacturers Gedeon Richter, Egis, and Korax Machine Works Ltd. continue to work in Russia, while Dairy-Consulting Kft opened a meat processing plant in Russian Sverdlovsk region in July 2017.
Hungarian PM Viktor Orban
Budapest also complied with Moscow on a number of issues. Orban gave the Russians a carte blanche in the field of energy. Russia supplies 70% of oil and 65% of natural gas consumed by Hungary. During Orban’s last visit to Moscow, a contract with Gazprom for the supply of natural gas in 2020 was signed. The ruling Fides party is not looking for ways to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. Last year, Russian gas supplies to Hungary amounted to 7 billion cubic meters, which is almost 22% more than in 2016. During 8.5 months of 2018, Gazprom increased deliveries to Hungary by 8.6%. Putin and Orban discussed the prospects for building a branch of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline through the territory of Hungary, which will increase the supply of Russian natural gas to this country by 30%. The Russian-Hungarian project of the Paks II nuclear power plant is also being implemented. In 2016, agreements were reached for Russian Energomashspetsstal enterprise (manufacturer of special cast and forged products - Ed.) to supply slag cups for the Hungarian Dunaferr metallurgical plant, which is part of the ISD group of Ukrainian businessman Serhiy Taruta. In 2015, Russian Metrovagonmash plant won a tender for the modernization of 222 cars for the Budapest metro in the amount of 220 million euros. Hungarians give Russians contracts that could be executed by European industrial enterprises in the context of the EU Common Market.
The best defense is a good offense
The intensification of trade relations between Hungary and Russia can be used by the European Commission as a pretext for increasing pressure against the Orban regime. Relations between Hungary and the EU are in a deep crisis. In September, the majority of MEPs supported the imposition of sanctions against Hungary (deprivation of the right to vote in the European Council) in response to the government’s restricting press freedom, NGO activities, and independent judges’ removal. In July 2018, the European Commission filed a lawsuit against Hungary for refusal to place refugees on its territory and proposed to introduce financial sanctions against the country. German chancellor criticized Orban for the harsh treatment of refugees and said that the fences erected along the Hungary state border are not an answer to the migration crisis. Recent trends in gas relations between Russia and Hungary bring down the wrath of US President Donald Trump, who is interested in Europe’s reduction in energy dependence on Russia and in buying more American liquefied gas.
The Hungarian government uses the best defense is a good offense” principle, and Szijjártó’s recent rhetoric is good evidence of this. He emphasized that influential European countries continue to work with Russia despite the sanctions to justify the intensification of the Hungarian-Russian trade. So Hungary is not the only example of such a trend. Recently, there has been an increase in trade between the European Union and Russia. In 2014-16, trade between Russia and the EU fell from 285.66 billion euros to 191.34 billion euros, in 2017 it somehow increased to 231.28 billion dollars.
Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin
Last year, the top ten largest trading partners of Russia included anti-Russian sanctions participants, including Germany (second place), Holland, Italy, and the United States. Germany is the largest customer of Gazprom and in 2017 imported 53.4 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas. Like the Hungarians, the Germans are interested in receiving income from the Russian gas transit. Merkel supports the construction of the Nord Stream - 2 gas pipeline. Gazprom plans to increase natural gas supplies to Europe to 200 billion cubic meters this year. German Siemens supplied gas turbines to Russia, which were used in the annexed Crimea, omitting anti-Russian sanctions. From the beginning of 2018, Russia supplied oil and petroleum products to Holland for $ 23 billion (76% of bilateral trade). France and Poland are not far behind Kazakhstan in terms of trade with Russia (about 3% in foreign trade), which participates in the Eurasian Economic Union.
Using his high-profile statements, Szijjártó goes all-out, trying to divert the attention of the international community from the issue of Orban’s authoritarianism and non-compliance with the "open door" policy. To some extent, Szijjártó takes Trump’s example, who also criticizes European countries, especially Germany, for neglecting anti-Russian sanctions and buying Russian natural gas.
Szijjártó lobbies for the lifting of sanctions
It seems that Szijjártó’s ultimate goal is to provoke a kind of commotion in the EU concerning anti-Russian sanctions and to gather his supporters. At various times, the authorities of Italy, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Slovakia expressed a similar desire. The Hungarian Minister directly recognizes the interest of Europeans in cooperation with the Russians in business. Szijjártó considers anti-Russian sanctions untenable, because, in his opinion, they do not help implementation of the Minsk agreements and damage the European, Ukrainian, and Russian economies. Recently he has been accusing Ukraine of treason, referring to Ukraine’s law on compulsory education in the state language in all educational institutions, including Zakarpattia schools, visited by local Hungarians. Hungary is blocking decisions on Ukraine at the NATO level.
Thus Budapest is trying to convince Brussels and Washington that supposedly they should not pay much attention to Kyiv.
The position of the Hungarian authorities on anti-Russian sanctions is not true. Even despite the fact that Europe and America did not stop trading with Russia, the existing restrictive measures caused damage to the banking sector of the Russian Federation and had a negative impact on the investment climate of the country. In 2014-17, capital inflows to Russia declined by 160-170 billion dollars due to the sanctions. According to the European Parliament, in 2014-16. sanctions caused fluctuations at the level of 8–10% of GDP. Sanctions have limited Russia's access to high technology and financial markets, which exacerbates the country's technological lag and constrains GDP growth. Russia could suffer more serious losses and become more cooperative on the Ukrainian issue if the EU reduced imports of Russian natural gas by increasing gas imports from the United States, Asia, and Africa. However, this is hampered by the fact that some European countries, such as Hungary, put economic interests above the questions of European security and geopolitical ambitions to turn the European Union into a self-sufficient center of power. And there is nothing surprising in this.
Read the original text at 112.ua.