Hungary is a Trojan horse for Russian influence, says József Gulyás

April 20, 2017

The following interview with former liberal MP József Gulyás was published by hvg.hu on April 19, 2017 under the title “József Gulyás: the government’s erratic behavior indicates that it has much to fear.”

Hungary is emerging as a Trojan horse for Russia, a country which is set on dismantling European cohesion of and weakening the alliance alliance, claims former MP and member of the National Assembly’s national security committee József Gulyás. The former politician says unimaginable things are happening every day. Everything from Béla Kovács to the Yandex scandal serve as evidence that the government has made an about-face.

Many believe that the security services are responsible for orchestrating what we now call politics: the Russian’s hold the Hungarian government on a leash, and the opposition is guided by international hidden power. Can we believe this?

This increasingly absurd assessment only amplifies these extreme interpretations. It’s best to stick closer to the reality. It is clear that in recent times the role played by Hungary’s state security has increased because many question whether they have adequately kept track of Russia’s security services activities in Hungary. A general rule of thumb is that the security services are working well if they aren’t in the news and if the institutions responsible for overseeing their work have the right amount of oversight. In this situation, neither is true.

Are the security service’s operations put in jeopardy if the government uses their security reports for political reasons?

This does cast doubt over their work, but this isn’t anything new. The public’s trust in the security services was already shaken under the Gyurcsány era. Back then, it became clearer than ever that the services are not able to operate independently of the influence of party politics. Naturally, politics does play a role – within constitutional boundaries – in directing the services in accordance with our country’s obligations derived from its position in an international alliance. However, the issue here is about the extent to which the most immediate political needs dictate the security services’ work and the extent which the services allow for this to happen. From this point of view, I am convinced that the work of the Hungarian security services crossed the red line a long time ago.

News reports claim that the services not only serve Hungarian political interests, but that they even serve Russian interests.

For all intents and purposes, the Orbán government has turned its back on alliance policy that had been developed since the Hungary’s democratic transition. The government has changed the very foundations of our domestic and foreign security. The day-to-day politics, government communication, and hapless worldview presented by Hungarian  public media runs counter to the strategy employed until now.

Is this an ideological or economic about-face? What’s the logic behind this strategy?

We can see the process, but it’s the motivation that’s difficult to ascertain. In the national security strategy adopted in 2012, our role in NATO and the EU was in the focus, as was our focus on the shared values that form these groups. But the increasingly strong anti-Brussels rhetoric and the Paks deal with Russia made it clear that this is no longer the case. It’s difficult to comprehend this considering Viktor Orbán and Fidesz’s earlier political positions. It’s alarming to see where we are now.

So, it isn’t only in Russia’s own interest to influence Hungary’s domestic affairs, it is also in the Hungarian government’s interest to promote a positive picture of Russia?

What we can see is that Viktor Orbán’s trademark warlike rhetoric has intensified — primarily against our allies and the shared values we hold. It appears as though Hungary is a Trojan horse for Russian influence, influence that is set on dismantling European cohesion and weakening the alliance. Things are happening on a daily basis which would have been unimaginable earlier.

It was with our Eastward Opening that Hungary once again got mixed up with Moscow’s expanding sphere of influence. In other words, we are making friends at a time when our partner’s outward communication is most hostile.

I think the hostility of Russian power politics became clearest in the second half of the 2000s. But the past three years have also shown an alarming turn, one that our own alliance is still trying to find solutions to. Our foreign security service partners are sending increasingly strong signals that the risk is serious, and they are informing the general public as well. German and Czech intelligence services have practically released their reports on this subject to the public. This is a sort of intervention, an effort to inform the wider public with the aim of helping them understand what is happening in the right context. The exact opposite is happening here: anything concerning Russian threats and efforts for expansion are not discussed, while the dying west, the European Union, or even – also similar to the Russian style – the embodiment of hidden power George Soros pose the greatest threat to our national sovereignty.

But it isn’t only the Russians who are active in Hungary.

It is natural that there are American, German, Romanian, and Polish security services active in Hungary. One doesn’t need to be highly educated to know that the immediate interests and activity of the United States are not comparable to those of the Russians. The Americans and Poles are following Russia’s expansion into Hungary with great concern, and they are trying to withstand it to at least protect NATO’s information base.

Can we believe Simicska’s claim that Orbán hoped Rosatom (Russian Atomic Energy Corporation-tran.) would by him RTL Klub?

The reality of the claim independently fits into the picture that is unfolding in front of us. It is worthwhile to look at Putin’s Russia to see what kind of methods are employed by the security services to draw others into their sphere of influence. A number of immensely profitable corporations are used to lure-in and compromise the leaders of target countries — the “economic opportunities” string of honey. In Hungary, there is no good explanation which would shed light on why the Paks agreement was entered into so suddenly and in that form. It’s hard not to think that corrupt practices aren’t the main drivers behind the ever-increasing number of these business deals. What makes this feeling stronger is that these deals are closed off to the public and non-transparent.

Is it possible that Hungarian leaders are vulnerable to the methods of Russia’s security services?

The situation isn’t only generate by Russia’s security services, it also comes from Russia’s official politics. The intelligence services serve those in power by creating certain situations which can be used against potential political partners. There have been reports in the press suggesting that Viktor Orbán’s history as an undercover agent can be used to blackmail him. I don’t think this is where we should be looking. If the prime minister worked with the military intelligence as a soldier, the role he played in the second half of the 1980s exonerates him from the charge that he was a collaborator with the Kádár system. We shouldn’t look to the past to identify the problem. Today, it is practically impossible for the Hungarian government to show a single close relationship with a western leader and ally that comes anywhere near the kind of relationship it has with Putin’s Russia. All this at a time when Moscow violated the territorial integrity of our neighbor. And that’s when choose to enter into an agreement that will commit our country to something for decades. The Paks agreement can’t really be interpreted in any other way. We do not know the extent to which risk assessments were prepared before the deal was struck. Unfortunately, there was no parliamentary oversight and the committee which could have had oversight – which is led by an opposition politician – did not function properly in this respect.

What could the committee have done in light of the parliamentary power dynamics?

It is not only the right of the national security committee, it is its duty to become acquainted with the national security risk assessments performed for issues of this magnitude. It should have looked at these reports, but I have no information to suggest that the opposition chairman of this committee pushed hard in this direction.

Could MSZP’s Zsolt Molnár role really have had that big an impact?

The national security committee is completely incapable of supervising the work of the security services, and the chairman is obviously assisting in all this. When the governing party MPs walked out of parliament and broke quorum during the Russian Yandex scandal, then the chairman shouldn’t have adjourned the meeting. He should have given opposition MPs the opportunity to question the state security officials present at the meeting, and it would have been their duty to respond.

Do Hungary’s security services perform political work?

Statements recently made by former operations director Ferenc Katrein suggest that is what is happening.

Can we take Ferenc Katrein seriously?

I called for his testimony in connection with the hearing on the Roma murders. That’s when I had the opportunity to meet him, and I took him seriously. Anyone who has followed, even based on openly available media reports, the changes in activity of Russian security services in the region did not read anything new in Katrein’s interview. What the interview did provide, however, was a confirmation. The power of that interview comes from who gave it. We’re talking about a man, a high-ranking official in state security, who observed the operations of the services. For me, it isn’t only the self-reflective statements he made regarding the Roma murders that give him legitimacy, but also that he spoke openly on the how the Russian security services were able to penetrate Hungary under the Gyurcsány government with the assistance of the senior officials in the National Security Agency. Katrein’s statements do not come across as though he is trying to say something bad about how the security services operate under the Orbán government, rather he is saying aloud that politics has been interfering in the state security apparatus for years and that politics is now demanding of the services something that inherently violates Hungary’s national security. I don’t think he is doing this out of spite. I think he shared his thoughts with the public out of his sense of duty.

[Pro-government] Magyar Idők say this is treason and nothing else.

I would turn this around and say that it is Ferenc Katrein who claims are that treason is being committed, and that the Hungarian security services are co-perpetrators of this treason. That’s exactly why the former operations director statements came out into the public. Magyar Idők needs to take some time and think about about what treason means and – while concentrating on national sovereignty – needs to review its own activities.

But if one opens this daily which serves the purpose of promulgating the government’s position, they will read that some parties are preparing to fabricate charges against members of the government with the aim of discrediting them.

Those in politics who are behind the daily are afraid, they’re squirming. They are worried that compromising information may be released from their former ally Lajos Simicska or from documents leaked by the security services. Because they can’t pinpoint what it is they are expecting, they are trying to preempt these accusations by totally discrediting anything that comes out before this information even emerges. This shows that those affected by the release of this information aren’t able to sleep well at night, that there is reason for them to be afraid.

Is it possible that Katrein’s appeal in front of the press is part of an operation orchestrated by some other foreign security service?

I wouldn’t rule out that Katrein – who had good relations with partners in foreign security services – really felt that this information needed to be made public and that he may have even been encouraged to do so. But I don’t think that he would have done this on behalf of another party. Let’s be clear: if anyone in this story takes the Hungarian constitution seriously and is trying to protect Hungary’s sovereignty, it’s Ferenc Katrein. It is public knowledge that he spoke openly about the dangers threatening his homeland, but he did not cross a certain line. He did not open up and expose everything, he kept true to his post-service obligations.

Are our allies sharing their worries with us? Are they warning us of things?

The Béla Kovács story is proof. It was known for years that Béla Kovács was a financial link between Jobbik and Putin. But still, nothing happened before or after 2010. However, a message was sent from security services after 2012 that Hungarian passivity on this issue would no longer be sustainable. When the services finally acted, they did so in the absolute worst way possible: they printed the information on the pages of Magyar Nemzet. They did so knowing fully well that it would be years before Kovács’ immunity from prosecution would be suspended in the European Parliament. Meanwhile, this was enough to give a few days for Russian agents to destroy any evidence tying them to Kovács, to rearrange the now jeopardized network, and to get their agents responsible for handling Kovács out of the country. He should have been caught in the act, instead. If a similar situation would taken place in Poland or the Baltics, the would have approach the agents and traitor and let them know that they are already in their sights. [ed. – This would have triggered certain actions on behalf of the government].

They took action against Kovács, but it doesn’t appear that anything has happened with Szilárd Kiss.

A lot of people are responsible for Szilárd Kiss and it’s an indefensible shame. There’s no good explanation for why the agriculture ministry protected him, or what this two-legged risk factor was doing in the foreign ministry. There’s no good explanation on how he was able to sell of papers allowing thousands entry into the Schengen zone. This should have be investigated a long time ago: who knew, who found out when, how much did they know, what did they approve, etc. So many visas being issued can’t simply fall through the cracks of the system. It is troublesome and alarming that this was able to go on for years. This is the same situation with the Yandex scandal. Some people decided that they wanted to share access to sensitive private data with the Russian service. But there’s no investigation to determine who decided to do this and bring this under our roof.

What kind of participation can we expect from the Russian services in Hungary’s 2018 national elections?

The Russian security services are perfectly satisfied with Hungary’s current status quo. We can assume that they are prepared to maintain the status quo by extending a helping hand with disinformation during the elections. At the same time, the impact of the Hungarian and Russian security services can have is limited. If there is a very strong public sentiment, there isn’t anything that a few agents with fireworks can change. However, these kinds of acts can certainly decide the fate of a few parliamentary mandates, which means that even the government’s own ability to stay in power depends on them. But a much more pressing problem for the elections is the election system itself.