On March 2nd, Zoltán Szalai and Gergő Kereki interviewed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for the Hungarian weekly Mandiner. They discussed, among other things, his position on the Russia-Ukraine crisis and how Hungary is helping those fleeing the war.
We’re caught in the crossfire between major geopolitical players: NATO has been expanding eastwards, and Russia has become less and less comfortable with that. The Russians made two demands: that Ukraine declare its neutrality, and that NATO would not admit Ukraine. These security guarantees weren’t given to the Russians, so they decided to take them by force of arms. This is the geopolitical significance of this war. The Russians are redrawing the security map of the continent.
“Russia’s security policy vision is that, in order to feel safe, they must be surrounded by a neutral zone,” the Prime Minister said. “Hitherto they’ve seen Ukraine as an intermediate zone and, having failed to make it neutral by diplomatic means, they now want to make it neutral by military force. At the same time, Hungary must make it clear that war is not an acceptable path to any goal, and Hungary unequivocally condemns those who choose that path.”
Orbán also stressed the Hungarian role of trying to facilitate peace talks. “Hungary is pro-peace,” he said, “It is in our interest to stay out of the war, for the parties to reach an agreement as soon as possible, and for there to be peace.” He stressed:
We must not, under any circumstances, be drawn into this conflict. We condemn the Russian attack, because they have launched a war against Ukraine. We must get back to the negotiating table as soon as possible, which is why we’ve offered to host peace talks in Budapest. But the important thing is that they should start. Now the whole of Europe should be working for peace.
On the matter of sanctions, the Hungarian Prime Minister stated his solidarity with the EU: “we won’t veto or prevent the EU from imposing sanctions on Russia. EU unity is the most important thing now.” He did, however, look forward to a time after the war as well: “As far as post-war bilateral relations are concerned, one thing is certain: after the war Russia will continue to exist. And after the war Hungary and the European Union will have interests. There’s no good argument for ending our energy cooperation with Russia,” adding that “EU leaders have also made it clear that sanctions will not affect energy supplies from Russia, as this would destroy the European economy.” He stressed that “the price of the war should not be paid by Hungarian families.”
Asked about the Left’s candidate for prime minister declaring his willingness to send Hungarian soldiers and weapons to Ukraine if necessary, Orbán replied:
International politics is a difficult business. I’ve plied this trade for over thirty years, and this is my third war: the third war in our neighbourhood while I’ve been Prime Minister. NATO intervened in the war in Kosovo in 1999, the day after our entry into the organisation. In 2014 there was the Crimean crisis, and now I’m facing a second Ukrainian-Russian war. The advantage of experience in government is that I know the meaning of strategic calm: to speak sparingly, but then to speak precisely and responsibly. At such times, campaign concerns cannot be allowed to take precedence over national interests. Even one misspoken sentence can cause trouble. In a war, words are halfway towards deeds. The Opposition wants to send weapons which would be used against the Russians, or send soldiers to fight the Russians. This shows that they’ve no experience, no knowledge and no sense of responsibility. With their irresponsible statements they are pouring gasoline on the fire, and that runs counter to Hungary’s interests. Instead of political adventurism, we need responsible politics, security and stability.
With regard to what Hungary is doing to help Ukrainians, Orbán said “We’re happy to help the Ukrainians in their negotiations with Russia. We’ll even provide a venue for peace talks. We’re also offering Ukraine humanitarian aid, delivering vehicle fuel, food and basic supplies. And thirdly, we welcome anyone who comes here from Ukraine.”