Hungary is in a difficult diplomatic bind: The “Orbán doctrine” is dead

This morning 168 Óra ran the headline “The Orbán doctrine has collapsed after three days.” The reason is the Russian “incursion” into Ukrainian territory. After that, said Árpád Székely, former Hungarian ambassador to Moscow, there will be neither Paks nor the Southern Stream. Székely actually welcomes the first consequence, a dubious deal between the Hungarian and the Russian government to build a new nuclear reactor in Hungary, but he is sorry about the likelihood of scrapping the Southern Stream project that would have supplied gas to the Balkans, Hungary, and Austria.

While high-level negotiations in the UN, NATO, and EU are going on over the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, I had to think about one of the many fallacies Viktor Orbán presented us with during his pep talk to the Hungarian ambassadors only four days ago. In his speech he indicated that as far as he is concerned old-fashioned diplomacy is passé. “Not that classical diplomacy has lost its magic and beauty” but “we must acknowledge the realities of the economic age in which we live.” Well, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict must be solved by old fashioned diplomacy, and Hungary’s newly reorganized foreign ministry is ill prepared for the task. Moreover, its leaders are constrained by the prime minister’s unorthodox ideas on diplomacy. Orbán’s Hungary is in a bind.

I should note in passing that German-Hungarian relations have cooled considerably. Earlier, I wrote about a warning from Michael Roth, undersecretary of the German foreign ministry, that in his government’s point of view “Hungary is going in the wrong direction.” Since then an even more detailed and stronger statement was signed by Michael Roth, undersecretary in charge of European Affairs at the German Foreign Ministry, and his colleague Tomáš Prouza in the Czech Foreign Ministry. They warned that “Europe is more than a market.” It is a community of shared values.

According to Hungarian sources, Hungarian diplomats have been trying for some time to entice Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit Hungary for the annual German-Hungarian Forum. After all, this is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the German refugees’ safe passage to Austria thanks to the action of the Hungarian government in 1989. If she could not come, they at least hoped for a visit by the new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Well, it seems that Budapest will have to be satisfied with an assistant undersecretary as the representative of the German government. The highest ranking German participant will be Reinhold Gall, social democratic minister of the interior of Baden-Württemberg.

Now, to return to the current diplomatic challenge. After the failure of the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko in Belarus, several thousand Russian troops crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border. Subsequently Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk announced that his government will introduce a proposal in parliament to change the non-aligned status of the country and to request membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Some observers immediately announced that Ukrainian admission to NATO was very unlikely. However, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen made a statement today in Brussels, saying: “I’m not going to interfere in political discussions in Ukraine. But let me remind you of NATO’s decision at the Bucharest summit in 2008, according to which Ukraine ‘will become a member of NATO’ provided of course, Ukraine so wishes and fulfills the necessary criteria.” A strong warning for Russia. Putin often stressed that Russia will not tolerate a NATO presence on Ukrainian soil.

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers are recommending tougher sanctions against Russia. They gathered in Milan today for an informal meeting to discuss the Ukrainian crisis. Tibor Navracsics represented Hungary in Milan, but I could find no report on his position in the Council of Foreign Ministers. We know that Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Latvia, and Denmark were strongly in support of tougher action.

"German

German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier is arriving at the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Milan

Tomorrow the European Council will meet again to decide on the President of the European Union and the EU Foreign Affairs Chief. According to the latest intelligence, the next President of the European Union will be most likely Donald Tusk, prime minister of Poland.

Tusk’s government has been among the most hawkish in Europe over the issue of Ukraine. Just today the Polish government announced that it will allow the plane of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to fly over its territory only if the plane changes its status from military to civilian. Earlier his plane was barred altogether from Polish air space. Russia was not very happy. Its foreign ministry declared that Poland’s closing its air space to Shoygu’s plane is “a major violation of norms and ethics of the communication between states.”

Today three of the four members of the Visegrád4 (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary) issued statements about the Russian incursion. Poland’s foreign ministry said that it regards the incursion of Russian troops into the southern regions of the Donetsk province “as actions that fulfill the attributes of aggression, as defined in UN documents–Resolution 3314 of the United Nations General Assembly.”

The Czech statement was equally strongly worded. “The Czech Republic considers the incursion of the armed forces of the Russian Federation into the territory of eastern and southeastern Ukraine a fundamental threat to peace and stability of all of Europe.” It called on Russia “to immediately withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian territory.”

The silence from Slovakia was deafening.

Hungary chose an intermediate position and released the following statement: “We are closely monitoring and evaluating the situation on the ground, and we are in contact with our EU and NATO allies. A confirmed incursion of  Russian regular military units on Ukrainian territory would gravely escalate the crisis. In line with our consistently expressed earlier position, we emphasise that only a political process can lend a sustainable solution to the present crisis and therefore we support all diplomatic efforts to this end. The upcoming extraordinary European Council meeting and the informal meeting of the EU foreign ministers offer good opportunities for harmonizing the European position on this matter.”

Two of the opposition parties, Együtt-PM and DK, called on the government to stand by Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity. The former also wants the Hungarian government to suspend preparations for the expansion of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant while Russian troops remain on Ukrainian soil. The party also asked Orbán to use his good offices with Putin to convince the Russian leader to withdraw his troops from Ukraine.

DK wants to call together the parliamentary committees on foreign affairs, national security, and defense and to have the government prepare a statement that condemns Russian military action against Ukraine. In addition, Tibor Navracsics should call in the Russian ambassador to Hungary to convey to him Hungary’s condemnation of Russian aggression. Naturally, none of these suggestions or demands will be considered by the Orbán government.

On the other hand, I believe that Viktor Orbán will quietly vote with the majority on all the issues that will be discussed at tomorrow’s European Council meeting only to go home and report on the excellent ideas he gave to his colleagues about how to solve the Ukrainian crisis.

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30 comments

  1. “Hungary’s newly reorganized foreign ministry is ill prepared for the task.” Agreed. But, does it matter? Or who would be interested?

    “Ukraine ‘will become a member of NATO’ provided of course, Ukraine so wishes and fulfills the necessary criteria.” ” This won’t happen for a long time, precisely because the Ukraine doesn’t meet practically any criteria yet.

    We have to acknowledge that Europeans are tired of wars and set their hopes on civilised people. Now Putin disappoints them. But he only wants a narrow land corridor to the Crimea. Which he will get, illegally again. But then: what? Drop a hydrogen bomb on Moscow?

    The US of A under Obama is a lame duck with 13 aircraft carriers and a president who likes to play golf but shirks any decision taking. But perhaps he is right. Because of this big country’s wrong decisions too many people have died already during the last 40 years or so.

    In the longer run, the EU sanctions – and I hope there will be more – will sink in because Putin’s oligarchs won’t like them. That is the only outlook we have.

    This is how it is, folks.

  2. @Minusio

    “We have to acknowledge that Europeans are tired of wars and set their hopes on civilised people.”

    ‘Civilized people’, huh?

    Well, how do modern day Hungarians fit into that category?

  3. As far as political, civil culture goes: No fit. Sadly. There is a minority, though. But not a ‘critical mass’. Sadly…

  4. The Ukrainian military situation is really desperate, not only may have Mariupol an industrial city of 450,000 apparently fallen to the Russians, but big parts of the Ukrainian army appear to be surrounded. The Russians have even created a third separatist Republic called Novorossiya, and I have little doubt shortly most of southern Ukraine including the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will become part of the a Russian Federation after the most democratic of referendums is staged.

    The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, today assured Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, of NATO’s “unwavering support for Ukraine.” Are we joking here or what? The Jobbik must be putting down the palinka in their celebrations, how long will it be before we see a new Republic of Transcarpathia-Karpatalja under the protection of Orban’s good friend Putin?

    As a child in my anti-communist Hungarian Saturday school in our church I learned in Hungarian this poem which I translate as follows:

    Joe Stalin, you hangman
    Keep turning in your grave,
    We shower curses on your name
    And won’t let you enjoy your fame.

    You turned the head of many a man
    With your lying, cheating words
    And countless Hungarians suffered
    From your power and evil works.

    Those who forget the past are doomed.

  5. I can understand that people of working age are intimidated, but I don’t understand why the retirees–professors, writers, professional men–don’t join together to speak out?

  6. @petofi

    We can speak out – and some of us do. But it won’t change an inch.

    Rasmussen is a big voice of NATO, but nothing more. NATO is not prepared to do anything, especially as the Ukraine is not a member. It’s strange that the Ukraine tries to ask for help, given this fact. Actually I wonder if NATO would really react – in time – if any of its members would be attacked. I am thinking of the Baltic states, now. Hungary won’t be – unless its peasants begin to riot – in another century…

    It’s all so sad.

  7. @petofi

    Yes. And they do. But you have to notice how few they are. That’s the really frightening thing.

  8. “According to the latest intelligence, the next President of the European Union will be most likely Donald Tusk, prime minister of Poland.”

    I know that President of the European Union is sometimes used in the international media but President of the European Council is more accurate since he presides over the Council, not the whole union.

  9. Or as many cynical observes suspect Germany will compromise with Russia (along the lines of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), supported by the US (which anyway does not want to get involved as it has dozens of other hots spots all over the world on its hand), essentially accepting the new borders and things will go on as before. Germany needs the gas (through North Stream) and the oil and the German corporations want to keep exporting stuff to Russia. They just like Russia. I am not sure Germany is prepared to suffer a recession over issues like Ukraine. Only time will tell.

    Paks II is such a long term project that whatever Putin does now has almost no relevance, the project could still drag on for decades, spending billions and billions meanwhile. No politician will take the decision to declare: it’s officially over, unless the EU explicitly forbids the project but even in that case I am sure fideszniks will commit Hungary to the project somehow, as they will want to revive it. That’s the beauty of such projects, once they start nobody dares to stop them, too complicated, too many interests. In a way, the most important thing was to start it. A second best option for fideszniks would be to grant the project to Canadians or Koreans, fideszniks could still steal gazillions. A deal of the century exerts such a force that the thought of irrevocably giving up the dreams about those thousands of billions is almost unbearable, even if the project makes no sense in the first place.

  10. Minusio: But [Putin] only wants a narrow land corridor to the Crimea.Sorry if I didn’t see the irony in your sentence, but I don’t think this is true. While Putin may be navigating on sight, he currently takes all he can grab, and he’s in the position to grab the whole Black Sea coast until he makes the junction with Transnistria (which is quite a model as a Russian-run gangster State). No wonder Romania is getting increasingly worried.

    The consequences will be appalling. For the EU of course: it is one thing to sneer at the cacophony when it comes to Libya, Syria or Sudan (and rant afterwards because the numbers of asylum seekers are rising); it is another entirely to contemplate the grim ballet of selfish, short-sighted, poky ‘national interests’ when it comes to our continent. Also for continental institutions such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE – all those frameworks patiently built year after year on the ruins of Europe and in the spirit of détente, mutual understanding and gradual, voluntary convergence – it would be the end. And then what?

    Furthermore, NATO may gain Finland, but just think of the Turkish point of view. They’re hosting one and a half million refugees, and will soon directly fight jihadists in the South; at the same time the alliance they belong to does nothing to stop conflicts in the North nor in the East (Nagorno-Karabakh). The complete destabilization of Lebanon is looming, and they’ll have to cope with the empowerment of the Kurds. Why should they stay in? Why not get out and stand up for themselves, making deals with Russia and Iran?

    Economic sanctions are long-term instruments. The house is on fire, and facts on the ground will decide soon: we must support Ukraine with weapons, advisors and logistics. Now.

  11. Ooops, wrong formatting.

    Minusio: But [Putin] only wants a narrow land corridor to the Crimea.

    Sorry if I didn’t see the irony in your sentence, but I don’t think this is true. While Putin may be navigating on sight, he currently takes all he can grab, and he’s in the position to grab the whole Black Sea coast until he makes the junction with Transnistria (which is quite a model, as a Russian-run gangster State, for ‘Novorossiya’). No wonder Romania is getting increasingly worried.

    The consequences will be appalling. For the EU of course: it is one thing to sneer at the cacophony when it comes to Libya, Syria or Sudan (and rant afterwards because the numbers of asylum seekers are rising); it is another entirely to contemplate the grim ballet of selfish, short-sighted, poky ‘national interests’ when it comes to our continent. Also for continental institutions such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE – all those frameworks patiently built year after year on the ruins of Europe and in the spirit of détente, mutual understanding and gradual, voluntary convergence – it would be the end. And then what?

    Furthermore, NATO may gain Finland, but just think of the Turkish point of view. They’re hosting one and a half million refugees, and will soon directly fight jihadists in the South; at the same time the alliance they belong to does nothing to stop conflicts in the North nor in the East (Nagorno-Karabakh). The complete destabilization of Lebanon is looming, and they’ll have to cope with the empowerment of the Kurds. Why should they stay in? Why not get out and stand up for themselves, making deals with Russia and Iran?

    Economic sanctions are long-term instruments. The house is on fire, and facts on the ground will decide soon: we must support Ukraine with weapons, advisors and logistics. Now.

  12. I am normally not much of a fan of Anne Applebaum but this article merits a carefully read:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/anne-applebaum-war-in-europe-is-not-a-hysterical-idea/2014/08/29/815f29d4-2f93-11e4-bb9b-997ae96fad33_story.html?hpid=z2

    I think she captures the real fear now haunting many people in Central Europe over how far Putin could go with his expansion plans. Her article was written from a perspective of an American but it does reflect what I am hearing in Chicago’s massive Polish community, the largest in the world outside of Poland. Last night was the start of the Taste of Polonia Festival in Chicago and I drank Polish beer and listened to the rock band Roze Europy with old Polish friends two of whom served in Vietnam as I did. During the set Piotr Klatt there vocalist introduced a song saying in both English and Polish: I dedicate this song to my Ukrainian brothers who are dying tonight to defend all of our freedom from Vlad. There was a standing ovation that lasted a good ten minutes.

    I said to one of my old friends this sounds a lot like war to me. He said yes Putin has started the war and Poles will cross the border to fight the Russians before they cross our border, we will never, never again be Russian slaves. I told him that many Hungarians including the PM were siding with Putin, but not this Hungarian. He said after what the Russians did to you all in 56, Hungarians would support Vlad? I said some appear to, and he said its hard to believe. I said yes it is. He said at least you are a good Hungarian and we had a round of Polish vodka toasting the Ukrainians all the while.

  13. Now imagine: Bo-Bama doesn’t have a strategy for ISIS and SAYS IT (!!!)…How, on god’s good green earth, could he possibly figure out what to do with a rampant black belt who seems to have no other interest in the present world than to increase his height a few inches by the puffing up of his ego?

    It’s not enough for the head of NATO to say that they’ll set up military stations around Ukraine: they must begin it NOW. Otherwise, the Hungarians of Ukraine will be ‘freed’ and allowed
    to join Hungary and all sorts of mayhem will ensue (not to mention a possible war between
    Hungary and Romania in which Russia will be sought to help its brother nation–Hungary.
    And so it will proceed…

  14. I hope the Americans are paying attention because this is important: the next presidential elections can’t be soon enough; and they must elect a strong, powerful voice. Never mind that
    some are accusing Hillary of being a ‘war hawk’–she’s not. Madam Reset would be a hopeless president and would get zero respect from the likes of Putin. Best would be McCain but I think he’ll be 80 by then. Never mind: elect him anyway because a ‘short-lifer’ may just support his devil-may-care persona to the Russians.
    Peace is to be made (or won) by strong figures–Begin and Reagan come to mind. In this respect,
    a bible-toting Romney, threatening the wrath of God to the Evil Empire, may do as well.

  15. @Istvan: ‘Her article was written from a perspective of an American … who is also the spouse of the Polish Foreign Minister.

    Visegrad 4 ambiance, continued: yesterday a Polish journalist tweeted about Hungary apparently asking for some form of (unspecified) enlargement of the Visegrad Group. Two of his Polish colleagues promptly replied something like ‘So, Orbán wants to include Russia?’.

  16. OT: Hungary is certainly doing better. In less then six month, yesterday was the second time the mayor of Budapest was able to inaugurate the renovated Castle Bazaar. The first time coincidentally just before the elections, Viktor Orban with his whole gang of Fidesz supporters raved about the great work (done with huge financial support of the Fidesz’ “persona non grata”, EU). Of course the Bazaar was not ready, and this provides a fantastic opportunity again to inaugurate (coincidentally just before the mayor election) the Bazaar by Fidesz’ own, Tarlos. Not to worry if you missed the inauguration again, as the complex is still not ready, and apparently there will be a third inauguration shortly, likely still this year!

  17. Petofi I am not a supporter of the Republican Party, but I would say the majority of retired US military officers and NCOs are. The tragedy of the actions of Vlad the invader is that the US Defense budget will have to increase significantly to address the many threats we are currently facing, if the Germans, French, and other NATO allies do not significantly increase their defense budgets the US electorate will revolt against increased military expenditures for NATO related activities. If we increase our defense budget we will have to cut our human services and education budgets. I support that, but many Americans do not.

    Because of how badly things are turning out in the Middle East before the USA commits itself to another conflict I believe the Joint Chiefs will want to see an end game for the Ukraine. Poroshenko is looking more and more like an idiot oligarch whose military doesn’t understand what a flanking maneuver is or the basic military doctrine of shifting from offensive operations to defensive ones.

    I have no doubt that NATO/CIA/NSA advisers were warning Poroshenko to either push the attacks on Donetsk and Luhansk with an armored assault right up the gut of the Russians like the US Army 3rd Infantry Division did in Baghdad with what came to be called “thunder runs” of tanks and other armored vehicles, or adopt a more defensive posture to prevent being flanked by a Russian assault. Instead the Ukrainians effectively adopted a siege approach using artillery and slow advances.

    Ukraine’s forces also include autonomous units controlled by the fools from the Right Sector, who are effectively the ideological counterparts of the Jobbik except they are anti-Russian, but hate Jews, Roma, and ethnic minorities with a passion equal to the Jobbik. These various nationalists/facists are good at parading around in uniforms with AK-47s, but not so good at following orders especially when those orders could lead to causalities.

    Really only if the Germans, and the EU take it upon themselves to create a Marshal Plan for Ukraine, to fund the reorganization of that state will the US electorate support paying for a long term military build up of US forces in Central Europe. It doesn’t matter if the next President is a Republican or a Democrat.

  18. Eva I am aware of who Applebaum is married to, but she is also an American like myself and you. With approximately 50,000 Ukrainian Americans, the Chicago area has one of the largest Ukrainian population centers in the United States, along with our massive Polish population, the Chicago area also possesses the largest Lithuanian community outside Lithuania so much of the war fears Applebaum expressed are being reflected in this population. Because of this population the civil war in the Ukraine is big news in this town, we even have local Polish TV station Polvision Chanel 24.4 that sent a reporter in them Ukraine It is not just a reflection of Polish propaganda coming from her husband. But doing something about Putin, well that will cost big money and probably blood. Even among Central Europeans here sending their children off to war or long term peace keeping will not be popular.

    None the less her story about the building fear of Russian expansion does exist in the Polish, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian communities. I also think she has very deep ties to the US foreign policy establishment and I think there is worry among the policy wonks about unrestrained Russian expansion in Central Europe that she is reflecting too. Just like in Hungary the first concern even among ethnic populations is economic survival here but there is real worry that we are headed down a very dark road in relationship to Russia.

  19. Istvan

    re the dark road

    I’m afraid Hungary has been ‘steppin’ fechett-ing’ for the Russkies for a long time. I note that
    Gyurcsany during his period made mewing sounds too; and the Russians ran the Malev
    gig on us then, too.l I’m afraid their is a monster in the back room who only now seems ready to show himself in the form of PaksII and some not so secretive bank (Sberbank and one other)
    opening its offices in the wildly successful Budapest of today.

    As for NATO, of which I know next to nothing, it’s high time you Yanks read the riot act to
    Germany, Britain, France et.al. to carry a much bigger burden of the cost. While those countries
    quietly sat by and stayed mute, America has carried the burden and for good measure was constantly lambasted by the Russkies and their 5th column surrogates in various countries who
    reared up and barked various anti-americanisms. All this has got to stop. You need a president
    who will demand greater participation from the free-loaders. Of course, if you Americans
    hadn’t been so thin-skinned and lessoned to the nonsense of turning over Iraq as soon as you pacified it, there wouldn’t be the present problems. America has a history: you occupied Japan
    for some years, and it was all for the better for their economic and political development.
    The US should’ve stayed in Iraq, and politically controlled it, for 20 years. That might’ve provided
    a great lesson for others; but to have handed power to a one-sided, parochial crook as they
    ded in Iraq was no lesson for others at all.

  20. Orban does not want new sanctions. Well, what a surprise.

    Orban badly wants to keep Paks 2 alive.

    By raising the ineffectiveness of the sanctions openly he can both act for Putin (i.e. the raising of these arguments only show the divisions among the EU when it would have to be united) and in the meantime rub into the EU’s nose that it is impotent (which is true). He enjoys this because Putin is happy and Orban himself is happy, just because the EU is unhappy.

    Orban thus scores on both fronts as he will turn out to be right (because although the sanctions will inflict pain on Russia and are necessary politically, Putin just doesn’t care) and Putin will be happy too as his agent is sowing dischord among the EU. I think Putin cannot realistically expect more from such a high level agent (lest he becomes too obvious).

    I think it is high time to slap on Orban’s nose so that he would understand that his real paymasters are not in Russia, however much money Orban is personally (via his fronts) amassing from his Russian energy deals, but really the EU which will send about 7,000 bn forints to Hungary in the next cycle, of which – both Orban and the EU know – Orban with his oligarch will just steal.

    http://www.hvg.hu/vilag/20140830_EUcsucs__Orban_onbecsapas_azt_allitani

  21. @Istvan, I did not want to suggest that it is Polish propaganda. Not at all. The Poles know what they are talking about. Applebaum lives in Poland now and therefore it is natural that she reflects the general feelings around her. The Ukrainian communities in the United States are very patriotic Ukrainians and I don’t blame them at all that they are fearful and worried. Only fools like Orbán can say that “for us the Ukrainian conflict is only an economic issue.”

  22. @petofi

    Come on, the military expenditures of the EU members who are also in NATO largely exceed that of the Russian Federation. Collectively, we still have substantial ground, air and naval forces – and nukes. I’ve never been a fan of the current U.S. President’s Foreign policy, but we shouldn’t blame him for our own shortcomings.

    Of course it’s too late now and history is never that simple, but I have the feeling that, had the UK agreed with France to bomb Assad’s forces last year, we wouldn’t be here today – either in Syria/Iraq or Ukraine.

  23. Marcel Dé : “Furthermore, NATO may gain Finland, but just think of the Turkish point of view. They’re hosting one and a half million refugees, and will soon directly fight jihadists in the South”

    Unless they join them…

  24. Istvan: “Because of how badly things are turning out in the Middle East before the USA commits itself to another conflict I believe the Joint Chiefs will want to see an end game for the Ukraine. ”

    I think (and many others fear it) that this end game could be a nuclear war that may probably result in THE END. Putin is counting on this fear, as he recently alluded to it.

    The relatively recent news about our people who handle the silos (apparently many passed the required tests by getting the results in advance from their superiors) does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling (if one could even use this expression in the context of a nuclear war).

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