Moscow’s nightmare: The Hungarian opposition leader?

That is what Péter G. Fehér claims in Heti Válasz, the allegedly moderate right-wing weekly. According to Fehér, Russia is in the midst of developing a new Central European policy because Russian diplomats are worried about the electoral victory of the Viktor Orbán-led Fidesz. If Fidesz wins, anti-Russian sentiment in the region will most likely grow. The only reason that such an anti-Russian zone comprised of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia hasn’t materialized yet was the Hungarian left-liberal government that undermined its formation. But if the anti-Russian Fidesz wins the next elections, such a right-wing victory would strengthen the resolve of these countries to form a new “cordon sanitaire” between the West and Russia. The map would look like this.

Orban almaIt would be a corridor or, as Viktor Orbán called it, an “axis” from the Baltic to the Adriatic. With the disappearance of the Hungarian left-liberal government the establishment of such an axis or corridor is highly likely. And the key actor in its formation will be none other than Viktor Orbán. This is the reason that Russia is so fearful of a Fidesz victory next spring. Putin’s “negotiations” with Orbán and his private dinner with the Gyurcsánys must be evaluated in light of this.

As for the Putin-Orbán negotiations it is clear by now that no such negotiations took place. Arkadii Klimov, a member of the Russian Duma’s foreign relations committee, told Népszabadság that the Russian invitation was extended to the European People’s Party and it was the party’s leadership that decided to send a three-man delegation to St. Petersburg that included Viktor Orbán. It’s true that Orbán tried to engage Putin in a conversation at the reception, but he was told by Putin that if he wanted to talk about Hungarian-Russian relations he should talk to one of his subordinates.

However, Fehér isn’t bothered by facts. He claims that Putin decided to “receive” Orbán despite the Hungarian opposition leader’s announcement only a few weeks before that “if he wins the elections Hungary will take the first steps toward energy independence.” Surely, continues Fehér, this is not to Russia’s liking because Moscow is interested in making Europe dependent on energy coming from Russia. What will happen if Orbán becomes prime minister of Hungary? “His victory will strengthen the resolve of the Central European countries to break their connections to the Russian gas supply. Because the pipelines go through these countries they will be less motivated in transmitting gas from east to west.” I  hope no one is inclined to hire Mr. Fehér as a foreign policy advisor!

Fehér continues. Russia recognized this danger a long time ago and tried to “soften” the countries of Central Europe. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, talked about good Polish-Russian relations when he visited Poland. But the Russians were also making friendly gestures toward the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Croatia. Now Putin wants to “soften up” Viktor Orbán as well. Although Gyurcsány by and large was friendly toward Russia, he made occasional remarks that indicated that his trust in the Russians was not complete–for example, when he supported the Nabucco project. Fehér adds that Gyurcsány’s “change of heart” came about after George W. Bush sent the Hungarian-born political scientist Charles Gati to warn the Hungarian prime minister about American dissatisfaction with his overly friendly relations with Russia.

Putin is a pragmatic man, claims Fehér, who on the one hand wants to be friendly to Viktor Orbán but on the other is desirous of keeping good relations with Gyurcsány. However, “the Russian leaders entertain their close friends in their dachas, but this dinner took place in a Ukrainian (of all places!) restaurant which gave only a semi-official character to the meeting.” In the light of what we know about Orbán’s negotiations with Putin, such a sentence is quite something! But wait, there’s more. Yes, Fehér admits, there was a photo of the Putin-Gyurcsány dinner. The reason there was no photo of the Putin-Orbán “negotiations” was because “Putin wanted to minimize the importance of the conversations” with Orbán. At this point one really doesn’t know what to say.

This kind of “analysis” was published in a purportedly serious political weekly. Even the ideologically committed readers of Heti Válasz expressed their amazement at Mr. Fehér’s “nightmares.” Even they considered it over the top.


  1. It seems we are back at the old times of Moscow-watching. Every gesture, word, fart, and this or that person yes or no appearing at a photo or sitting in whgich type of restaurant is being explained as very meaningfull for this or that theory. But it is all useless and Balkanesk speculation, worthy of Dan Brown but not serious journalism.
    I’m sure everybody is manouvering and positioning,and there are some broad lines that can be drawn (Russia not being very democratic, not wanting to be isolated and longing for old glory, and Europe not wanting to be energy dependant while also not wanting to alianate the Russians too much etc etc) but that is it. Talk of anti-Russian coalitions is ridiculous, of left-wing governments in Slovakia and Slovenia being part of an anti-Russian corridor nonsensical, the extremist right in CEE being financed by Moscow unsubstanciated rumor that is anyway missing the point of why the extremist right is doing well in all these countries.
    This morning, by the way, Political Capital (not at all pro-Orbán) send out a message stating that they have now had definite confirmation that there has indeed been a one hour meeting between Putyin and Orbán and that they apolegize for saying that there wasn’t in the past few days. And I heard the same from a high Russian diplomat I met yesterday. I would say: before you (in this case Nepszabadsag, Nepszava, this blog) accuse someone of lying, you better be very damned sure that you know what you’re saying. But then, that would be journalism and what’s the fun of that?

  2. @Hank: “…be very damned sure that you know what you’re saying. But then, that would be journalism…” Are you being serious here? Perhaps you could suggest the sources and journalists I should look to get my information from in Hungarian or English. I pretty much read the gamut and have yet to find the alternate form of ‘journalism’ you allude to. Suggestions would be most helpful.

  3. Hank: “Political Capital (not at all pro-Orbán) send out a message stating that they have now had definite confirmation that there has indeed been a one hour meeting between Putyin and Orbán and that they apolegize for saying that there wasn’t in the past few days.”
    Are you sure? There was only one online paper that claimed that there was a fifty-minute talk between Putin and Orbán. It was See

  4. @Hank: I can’t find anyone that echoes your assertion, either. Over the last 3 days no-one has reported or revived this (extremely dull and unimportant) story.
    Hí carries the stories of the sources both you and ESBalogh cite, but they have nothing to back up a one hour meeting:
    They are rather more concerned with the Russian economy, aside from the HetiVálasz ‘journalism’ and and EchoTV piece on importance of broadening cooperation with China.
    Amazing how all these ‘nationalists’ from Orbán to Vona are all ready to look East for cooperative ties with known oligarchs, semi-dictatorships. People and countries that are known to suppress the freedom of expression and the press (including the Hungarian love affair with Chavez).
    There is also some interesting discussion on the Jobbik-Russian ties, out there. But nothing along the lines of your strong assertions.
    Would still appreciate those ‘journalistic’ recommendations.

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