Viktor Orban should be taken seriously as sanctions against Russia may affect the trade globally as Russia is one of the most powerful exporters of oil all around the globe. Hence, any flexibilities provided for especially Central and Eastern European countries would also help both sides – EU and Hungary make their relations better.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, European countries are exchanging conversations regarding sanctions against Russia. As a result, president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen declared on May 4th that Russian crude crude oil would be banned within the next six months all over the EU as a part of the REPowerEU program. This decision was highly criticized by Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria since these countries are highly dependent on Russian oil. After talks between the commission and representatives from these countries, flexibilities are trying to be arranged. “We want Ukraine to win this war. Yet so much has to be rebuilt. That is why I am proposing to start working on an ambitious recovery package for our Ukrainian friends. This package should bring massive investment to meet the needs and the necessary reforms,” Ursula von der Leyen states.
Claiming that this decision would only tear the heart of the already worsening European economy after the global pandemic, Hungary’s Orban resists this decision. Negotiations between the commission and Hungary resulted with an extension to 2024.
Exporting 8% of world’s crude oil production and 25% of total oil imports to the European Union, Russia is the leader in the crude oil industry. European countries, especially Central and Eastern European countries are dependent on Russian crude oil despite the war that broke out between Russia and Ukraine in the beginning of 2022. Having already imposed sanctions on Russian oil imports, the decision to ban oil all over Europe was not seen as an action to be taken hastily by these countries.
Viktor Orban’s resistance against this decision was not a surprise within the current atmosphere. As the third-time election winner which won the supermajority in the Hungarian parliament, Fidesz party remained to take a neutral stance after the war broke out between Russia and Ukraine, refusing to provide weapons for Ukraine, resulting in a backlash from the Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy. However, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjarto claimed that Hungary would agree on the remaining sanctions other than the crude oil ban, otherwise the transition would be too hard on Hungary.
On the other side, Vladimir Putin of Russia claims that this decision would be an “economic suicide” for European countries.
Since Fidesz’s electoral landslide in 2010, Viktor Orban has been claiming that Russia is an example for them in building a new illiberal democracy and has been accused of supporting Russia in the EU. However, because of his anti-communist tendencies and policies European politicians had been delighted to see Viktor Orban in power. In addition, Hungarian transition to democracy after 1989 was built on integrating Hungary to the Western world. On the contrary, the dependency for the oil imported from Russia shaped the foreign policy of Hungary and with antidemocratic tendencies of Fidesz, it does not seem like it will fade away soon. Another perspective on Hungary-Russia relations can be explained with the fact that Fidesz has not been approving of European Union values which the party officials think contradict with Christian values.
The Hungarian government’s unrest against European Union policies is not fresh news. Since Viktor Orban came to the office, he has mentioned his discomfort regarding European Union’s policies. Placing value on Christian values, Viktor Orban is using his charisma and populist tendencies to stay in power and is known for his populist statements which would repress the press, LGBT+ population, and country’s top university, Central European University (CEU) as well as his Islamophobic opinions on immigrants from the Middle Eastern countries. Recent war between Russia and Ukraine put Viktor Orban and his government in a complex situation. Hence, resisting decision to ban Russian crude oil should not only refer Hungary’s dependence on Russian oil but also be seen as Viktor Orban’s illiberal tendencies which are also akin to that of Vladimir Putin’s. He is known to be close with other center-right party leaders around Europe — Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Serbia and another Pro-Putin leader Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and even Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Although such actions are frowned upon by European politicians, Orban claims that what he is doing is not against the laws and are within the borders of Hungary’s national sovereignty. “If any member state has any member state has any dispute with any European institution, they have to go to the Court: the European Court. And we always do that.” Claims Orban, by stating that he trusts the justice system of the Union. Although there are people who claim that Orban is using European Union financially and what he has done so far should not be justified, Fidesz’s policies which are seen as against EU values do not seem like they will stop soon because on the other side of the coin we see a leader who wants to make his country less dependent on other countries’ political interests and more independent and involved in free trade. The aftermath of Brexit showed that people who live in European Countries are not always keen on making decisions on external affairs as these decisions may have good impacts on some countries whereas can also be bad for others.