Budapest, Hungary – Hungary’s Central European allies are slowly turning their back on Budapest over what is seen as the Orban government’s lukewarm response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
V4 meeting cancelled over Budapest’s Russia stance
A scheduled summit of defence ministers of the Visegrad Group (V4) – a regional grouping gathering Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia – was postponed after the Polish and Czech sides refused to attend.
Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová had previously warned that she would not take part in the Budapest summit.
“I have always supported the V4 and I am really sorry that Hungarian politicians now find cheap Russian oil more important than Ukrainian blood,” she wrote on Twitter, referring to Hungary’s refusal to impose restrictions on energy imports from Russia.
Černochová’s Polish counterpart Mariusz Błaszczak later said he would “not go” to Hungary for the Visegrad defence summit, while Austria’s Klaudia Tanner – also invited – pulled out as well.
The postponement of the meeting, initially set to take place on March 30-31 and now pushed to an unspecified “later date”, was confirmed by the Hungarian Defence Ministry.
The summit’s cancellation constitutes a rare rebuke of Prime Minister Viktor Orban only a few days before parliamentary elections from some of Budapest’s closest partners, Poland especially.
Russian invasion of Ukraine exposes Polish-Hungarian rift
Quoted by local media, Poland’s deputy-Minister of Defence Wojciech Skurkiewicz noted that “what is going on around the V4 gives no reason for optimism.”
Asked on Polish public radio about Viktor Orban’s response to the crisis, Poland’s de-facto leader and ruling PiS party chairman answered: “If you ask me if I’m happy, then no, but I will wait for the [Hungarian general] election, we will see after the election.”
Last week, Polish President Andrzej Duda took direct aim at Hungary, criticising the country for its failure to rise to the occasion and support Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
“This policy will be costly for Hungary, very costly,” Duda said after meeting with US President Joe Biden in Warsaw.
Although Hungary has condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine, it has so far refused to impose harsher sanctions against Moscow, including in the energy sector, and ruled out sending direct military aid to Ukraine contrary to most EU nations.
Budapest’s tepid response has sparked the anger of officials across Europe, including in Warsaw, and exposed a rift that highlights the two countries’ diametrically opposed policies towards Russia.
Tensions rise as Orban and Zelensky clash
Hungary’s approach has not gone down well in Kyiv either. During a recent video meeting with EU leaders, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky directly singled out PM Orban and urged him to pick a side in the war.
“Hungary, I want to stop here and be honest. Once and for all. You have to decide for yourself who you are with,” Zelensky told him.
The clash between the two leaders escalated this week, and comes against the backdrop of years of diplomatic tensions between Ukraine and Hungary linked to the status of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transcarpathia.
The Hungarian government has dismissed the criticism and insisted its priority was to avoid being dragged into the conflict, saying Ukraine’s demands amounted to “a complete shutdown of the Hungarian economy.”
Officials also point to the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who’ve crossed the border since late February as proof that Hungary is prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.