Hungary and the Russian-Ukrainian crisis

A couple of days ago I wrote about the Hungarian far right and Russia and mentioned the Russian accusation that Hungary has been supplying T-72 tanks to Ukraine. At that time the Hungarian government categorically denied the charge, but the case of the “missing” Russian-made tanks is still a subject of debate. First of all, the stories out of the Ministry of Defense were confused. The spokesman for the ministry first claimed that the tanks never left the country: they were just moved from one storage area to another. Then the story took a different turn. The ministry informed the media that T-72 tanks (70 in all) were actually sold to a company called Excalibur Defense Kft. of Székesfehérvár, which received permission from the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade to transport the tanks to Czech territory.

That deal and the transportation of the tanks to the Czech Republic is most likely for real:  Magyar Nemzet published a facsimile of the “International Import Certificate” attesting to the arrangement. On August 25 the government informed the media that the tanks had begun their j0urney to the Czech Republic. Yet the documents published by Magyar Nemzet did not convince anyone about the final destination of the tanks. Vice Magazine published an article which took it for granted that the T-72 tanks did or will end up in Ukraine. The deal with Excalibur is only a decoy. And this belief is shared by the Russians. Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Russian political scientist and adviser to Vladimir Putin who also happens to be the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, in an interview on CNN accused Hungary of illegally selling military supplies to Ukraine.

Today several  newspapers reported that Csaba Hende, minister of defense, may leave his post sometime after the municipal elections. The exact reasons for his sudden departure are not known, but perhaps the clumsy handling of the T-72 tanks might be one of them. Given Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s excellent relations with Vladimir Putin and his outright antagonism of any sanctions against Russia, providing Ukraine with illegal shipments of weaponry is more than strange. If true, Orbán’s relations with Putin might be greatly damaged and his tarnished reputation in the West is unlikely to improve.

This is not the only strange turn in Hungarian foreign policy. There is also the government’s sudden change of heart about its support for NATO’s anti-Russian moves. Already in his last radio talk Orbán hinted that there might be more willingness on his government’s part to spend 2% of the Hungarian GDP on defense. This figure is the minimum NATO members, including Hungary, agreed to. Since 2010 the government has spent less and less on the armed forces, with the current expenditure a mere 0.88% of the GDP. In that talk he admitted that the country is in noncompliance.

Indeed, two days ago Magyar Nemzet reported that Hungary will arrive in Newport, Wales for the NATO summit with several proposals concerning the Hungarian contribution to the common effort to contain Russian encroachment into Ukraine. The semi-official newspaper is usually very well informed, and therefore we can be pretty certain that the news is correct. Hungary will send a contingent of 100 men to the Baltics to join an international NATO force there. In addition, Hungary will develop the air force base near Pápa. Moreover, Hungary will spend more money to improve the Hungarian military.

Aerial photo of the Pápa Airbase

Aerial photo of the Pápa Airbase

Yesterday HVG reported that several NATO member countries would like to see additional NATO troops in all countries that define the eastern borders of the organization. That would naturally also involve Hungary. According to an unnamed diplomatic source, if such a request is addressed to Hungary it will be almost impossible to refuse it.

Given all these developments one can only marvel at László Kövér’s performance yesterday. The occasion was a meeting of four prominent participants in the change of regime in Hungary–Sándor Lezsák, László Kövér, Mátyás Szűrös, and Péter Tölgyessy–with 20 young historians, journalists, and artists who travel through European countries following the footsteps of 1989. The project, called Freedom Express, was organized by the European Network of Remembrance and Solidarity. The group arrived in Budapest yesterday from Gdańsk and Warsaw. Well, the young visitors were treated to quite a tirade from the third highest dignitary of the country. It was an extraordinary performance that revealed Kövér’s antagonism toward Ukraine and her aspirations.

First, Kövér got upset about some of the questions that had more to do with Hungary’s pro-Russian views than the fine points of regime change in Hungary twenty-five years ago. Then a Romanian participant in Freedom Express asked Kövér a question that included a reference to the Romanian occupation of Budapest in 1919. He indicated that the Romanian army came to Hungary to liberate it from the communists. That really set Kövér off. He began by saying that “there is no reason to bring up topics with which we only irritate each other.”  So, he was in a bad mood even before all the questions poured in about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and Hungary’s role in it.

Kövér gave his own version of the conflict. “What is going on in Ukraine is a manipulated affair in which the Ukrainians have the smallest role,” he claimed. “The goal of this circus is that it should forever separate Europe from Russia.” Although Kövér expressed his satisfaction with the NATO umbrella over Hungary and although he understands the Poles and the Baltic people who are worried about Russian expansion, Russia has its legitimate security needs. “Who was the American or European politician who asked what the Ukrainians want?” As far as Western media coverage of the conflict is concerned, “the western press lies just as much as Pravda did in the olden days.”

Kövér is also convinced that no democratic developments can be expected from Ukraine because one of the first moves of the Ukrainian government was the suspension of minority rights. (Kövér failed to add that a day later that move was reversed.) As far as he is concerned, there can be no question about the outcome of a military encounter involving “the nonexistent army of the nonexistent Ukrainian state.” Instead, the real solution would be “normal cooperation between Europe and Russia,” but “the chance of that has been lost for the foreseeable future.”

If there is a circus anywhere, I’m afraid it is what Hungarian government politicians have managed to create in the field of diplomacy. And the clowns in this circus are not at all funny.


  1. This is a monstrous laugher: the West is sooooo innocent and gullible!

    The KGB boys, no doubt, had a more at NATO headquarters report that certain leading western members–I’d guess, US, Britain, France–had had enough of Viktor’s recalcitrance and were prepared to place a significant force in some eastern countries, and especially Hungary. On orders from the eastern masters, the Pava dance + pirouette began immediately to the accompaniment of mewing sounds by Viktor.

    Will this be enough to re-establish Viktor’s bona fides as a stalwart member of Europe and NATO?

  2. It does not surprise me that Orban is now committing troops to the NATO Readiness Action Plan (RAP), which will install a quasi-permanent NATO troop presence on the alliance’s Eastern flank in Poland and Estonia I think. This plan will be formally announced shortly at the summit if it hasn’t been already, it was all over the military blogs yesterday. If Hungary did not make at least a minimal commitment to the RAP troop rotation there might have been a real possibility Hungary would have been pushed out of NATO, so send a few hundred – mi a fene . What better place for the Hungarian Trojan Horse for Putin to be than in NATO’s forward positioned forces. I am sure the Russian SVR agents are licking their lips at the idea of debriefing their Jobbik friends in the Magyar Honvédség .

    Effectively right now the 25th Airborne Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (“UAF”), the UAF’s 24th Mechanized Brigade, a total of more than 5,000 soldiers, approximately 180 various armored vehicles, and up to 90 artillery pieces, mortars, and MLRS ended are now surrounded by combined Russian and separatist forces. As Putin said in a telephone conversation with European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso the other day he could capture Ukraine’s capital in two weeks if he wanted to.

    Here is the reality of the situation, the existing Ukrainian military and Right Sector sponsored militias are not effective fighting forces even in terms of a partisan war. Ukraine is in a checkmate situation and must take whatever kind of deal they can get to save a big part of their army. The only out for Ukraine would be if NATO committed actual forces to Ukraine, which is not going to happen. The fiasco of the Ukrainian military and militia formations is on a scale so big that even a creditable Ukrainian newspaper like Ukrainian Pravda really does not present the full picture to its readers. So Orban continues his game and unfortunately NATO allows it.

  3. @Istvan

    Let’s not kid ourselves–the Americans and Brits are no fools and they’re well aware of what Orban exactly IS. I’d extend that and say that the inner circle of the EU know the score too. What’s probably happening is that they’re letting Viktor flit around like a black fly on a table covered with
    crumbs. He’s busily picking up here and there. But the fly swatter is hovering over head and there will come a time when it will come down and splatter the bug beneath.

  4. @Istvan

    Exactly. Especially as Jobbik is extremely popular among all security branches. It’s a self selection issue. It seems that in Hungary only those are going to be professional soldiers, policemen etc. (in Hungary low paid jobs without much respect from the mainstream of society) who love hierarchy, order, are at least a bit nationalistic, socially conservative and usually come from the lower middle classes who dislike the ‘parasite’ gipsies and bourgeoise entrepreneurs and whose fears Jobbik represents and the Hungarian left-wing has been ignoring for ever.

  5. @Istvan, Eva S. Balogh

    Istvan: I am sure the Russian SVR agents are licking their lips at the idea of debriefing their Jobbik friends in the Magyar Honvédség .

    Are you aware of any electoral sociology study about the Jobbik vote among military personnel?

    In France the Front National vote has been estimated at around 50% within the armed forces and gendarmes altogether (based on voting booths close to large barracks).

    PS: of course, I don’t think that a member of the military would be more likely to betray his country because he/she votes for a far-right party sympathetic to Putin. However, it probably makes for a nice recruiting ground.

  6. London Calling!

    I’d like to be a fly on the wall of the Celtic Manor.

    Orban’s anxious lizard lip-licking must be very evident as he wonders who will talk to him, and those that do – he wonders what they’ll say.

    He’s a pariah – and all those that share intelligence know that Orban is a direct source for Putin.
    They will be very circumspect but will all know – will have been briefed by their own security services – how to ‘use’ him to give a real message to Putin.

    He appears to be doing the minimum, at last, to sing from the same song sheet with his covert supply of tanks to the Ukraine – if indeed that’s what he is doing.

    Just as Hitler realised that Horthy was in secret talks with the allies when he saw the writing on the wall – ditto Orban.

    Putin will already be aware of course and will have even anticipated Orban’s next move – such is the leaking sieve that Hungary’s government – and their alliance with Jobbik – is.

    Hungary is all too willing to play the situation for what they can leverage from the situation and can tell bare-face lies, just as Putin can.

    Instead of taking a principled stand on a situation Hungary tries to milk it.

    France have not delivered Putin’s warships; Germany has put its energy supplies at risk; Great Britain has committed fully to sanctions.

    Hungary’s belated tanks gift – if it is – or is it a selling opportunity to offload some old hardware? – or is just another cynical move that most world leaders have come to expect?

    In evolutionary terms this human trait is dealt with by slow slow isolation.

    And Hungary will lose – again.


    I’d love to be a fly on the wall of the Celtic Manor.



  7. @ Charlie: I wish I could link to the video where Orban is stepping forward for his photocall with David Cameron. Certainly a fair bit of tongue-flicking.

    Anyway, the Azeri and Turkish presidents are also in Newport, so Orban should at least have two friendly people to chat to.

  8. Dear Commentators,
    This might be a game for you, but please STOP pushing Orban to get involved in something he doesn’t want to.
    My family lives not far from Paks (about 60 km across the Danube) and I’m very worried about them. Please, please, for once, look at the possible human costs of this conflict. Please, put aside your chess game and look at it like a human being who cares about the future of Hungary. Thank you.

  9. Re Navracsics ‘s interview in die Welt:

    To me he seems crazy!

    At the same time that he asks for more friendship with Russia he says he’s afraid that the West won’t help Hungary when attacked by Russia (like 1956 …)? This seems like some kind of schizophrenia to me …

  10. Wolfi – I don’t understand German and what Navracsics said, but he’s smart enough to know that every country looks after their own interests. Please see: 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The Hungarians were stirred up by the U.S., but they were let down by the West in a time of need.
    Hungarians have learnt their lesson: Trust NOBODY!

  11. @wolfi: his words seem dreadfully selfish to me. Like “Oh well, the Poles and the Balts feel threatened but we simply don’t, so we don’t feel that concerned. The only thing we care about is our own security, and we’re not so sure about the West – so for the time being we play along but beware. And surely, we don’t give a damn about Ukraine.”.

    With allies like that, who needs foes?

  12. Marcel your question about the voting patterns for the Hungarian military is really an excellent one. I don’t have an answer for you as yet.

  13. @latefor re 1956:

    It seems to me that Hungarians were totally ignorant about the big scheme of things at that time. I had a discussion some time ago on with a Hungarian about this and she was very angrily asking:

    Why didn’t the US troops in Austria come to help us?

    She obviously didn’t know that Austria had sworn “eternal neutrality” in 1955 to get rid of the Allies occupying it – including the Russians …

    So of course it would have been a breach of that treaty if the Austrians would have let US troops (say from Germany) march through Austria and Hungary was just not that important for the US to risk that.

    Btw a similar situation occurred already in 1953 in East Germany, especially Berlin!

  14. @latefor: “Dear Commentators,This might be a game for you, but please STOP pushing Orban to get involved in something he doesn’t want to.”

    I don’t really get this comment.. so you seriously think that commentators on this blog could push Orban into anything he doesn’t want to do?

    You are right, the country is heading into a catastrophe (again), but it is Orban’s own doing.

  15. More evidence some Hungarians have taken up arms in Ukraine against in alliance with Russia.

    Does anybody now EE, Hungarian, and/or Ukrainian law regarding such persons. If they are captured by Ukraine, what would happen to them? Are they free to return to Hungary (the EU) without consequence? I think they should be tried for treason.

    This video is claimed to be posted by the “Army of Donbass”, a group of Hungarians fighting in Donetsk. Warning, some violently graphic images in this video.

  16. Latefor – time to end our naive dreaming.

    Orban does not care.

    All assets of Hungary are for sale.

    Paks is a money making opp for him.

    As in 1956, it is an imperative goal to get rid of this regime now again.


  17. The Paks loan and Paks 2 are absolutely sacrosanct. Orban will fight for them until the last bullet. One wonders why.

  18. latefor: Marcel De – Every country looks after thy own interests. Bummer!

    Flattery will get you nowhere.

    Hungary: 58th economy in the world, 0.14% of the planet’s population, no nukes, no oil, not a tax haven. How on earth its current leaders intend to look after their country’s interest by not committing seriously to both the global political project and the global military alliance they are supposedly part of, is indeed a mystery to me.

  19. Marcel I have to agree that Hungary’s situation relative to the world economy is very difficult and to a degree so is their situation within the EU even taking into consideration the cohesion funds given to Hungary. There are certain possible things that can be done to slowly break out of the low wage trap so many Hungarian based firms that are German feeder industries are in. One of those has to be related to innovation for patents relating to components to overall German products.

    But this requires the Hungarian parts industry to invest in research and development in addition to their current production requirements for foreign firms. This lowers the immediate profit of owners, but in the longer run will allow real Hungarian controlled production to take place with a ready-made market and potentially allow for increased wages. But the state will have to prohibit smaller innovative firms’ owners from cashing out and selling to multinational firms in order to develop these industries. That in itself may be a violation of EU trade rules.

    China has done this repeatedly in its production process and in fact probably regularly commits patent infringements on western firms, but they carry a big stick and pay little attention to such trade litigation. The Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) last establishes the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor and Qualified Domestic Institutional Investor rules which define the scope of foreign ownership in China’s private industries. I think it’s very fair to say that no underdeveloped nation has ever evolved into an advanced industrial nation without at least skirting the edges of trade rule violations and patent infringements. Capitalism is a rough game played for very high stakes.

    The left in Hungary has not addressed the underdevelopment of Hungary and assumes all will end well if a more or less democratic Hungary uses its EU cohesion funds better and the nation follows EU rules. The situation requires a somewhat more nuanced plan than that. Fidesz now apparently sees the way out of the low wage trap as nationalizations and creating an economy with one foot in the EU and one in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Community. I think most of us on this blog think that strategy is crazy and leads to actual dependence on the Russian Federation which in turn reinforces what I call gangster capitalism. But Orban has the fragments of a theory for national development of Hungary, I am not sure the left even has an alternative theory of development except a hope all will work out well with the EU in the end.

  20. Sometimes business news are just business news. But you never know when it comes to Hungary. The T-72 tanks might be heading to Ukraine.

    But there is also more sinister possibility. It was just business deal to sell off excess military hardware to Czech industry. Those who are into military business, Czech Republic is THE capital for refurbished ex-soviet battle tanks and hardware. All ex-Warsaw Pact countries sell off their soviet era hardware, but Czechs have been the most active to give them upgrades and sell them off later on for better price. Plus Czech Republic used to build T-72 tanks, so there is always demand for spare parts recycling. And the final layer for the cake: earlier Hungary has sold some 90% of their excess military hardware to Czech Republic for resale/recycling/demilitarization.

  21. I hear from employees of the Parliament (not the MPs but support staff) that Jobbik really works and its people ask intelligent questions. And that the entire opposition, all those parties are just dead, just don’t care, don’t work, don’t seem to do anything. At present Jobbik embodies democracy in Hungary. This is the sad reality.

  22. “The T-72 tanks might be heading to Ukraine”

    Not a likely destination.
    Ukraine doesn’t use T-72 at all.Not a single one.
    T-72 was retired from Ukrainian army years ago and today only T-64 is used
    T-64 an Ukrainian heavy tank design which was developed during the Soviet era as a competitor of T-72, and has been produced only in Ukraine..Russia has a number of them in use with some special units.
    In addition Ukraine army has some 3200 T-64 tanks -some in use some in reserve/storage- … I don’t see why Ukraine would need the Hungarian tanks.

  23. I don’t understand why it was a surprise that Navracsics referred to 1945 too. His was a standard argument among fideszniks concerning the West which they dislike and distrust and it has been written about in comments here. Also about the paradoxical result of these ‘betrayals’ so that Orban really trusts the Russians because at least they’ve been displaying unwavering interest in Hungary and back that interest up with hard cash (while the EU creates all that fuss about those subsidies). Fidesz and Jobbik voters (together some 2/3s of all voters) managed to convince themselves that the really honest and good party is Russia (despite 1849, 1945 and 1956) and that the west is the bad one.

  24. OT: I somehow feel that Vona isn’t exposed too much these days.What is he up to? In any case I expect Jobbik to make a killing at the municipal elections. People in rural areas are just eager to see jobbikniks working and leading them.

  25. @ Olaf

    “The Paks loan and Paks 2 are absolutely sacrosanct. Orban will fight for them until the last bullet. One wonders why.”

    You’re on the right track…

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