“It was perfectly clear that the Russian president regards Viktor Orbán and Hungary to be a kind of vassal and that Moscow is dictating to the Hungarian Prime Minister.” – Gábor Fodor, chairman, Hungarian Liberal Party (MLP)
“By selling out to Putin, Orbán has made himself a passive party to murder and aggression.” – Csaba Molnár, chairman, Democratic Coalition
A delegation of Russian officials led by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin paid Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Hungarian President János Áder a quick visit on Tuesday.
Prior to Putin’s visit, police demolished the Countrywide Assembly Movement’s (OGYM) encampment in front of parliament for the third time in two weeks and closed off a number of roads throughout Budapest.
Arriving an hour late, the Russian leader was received at Ferenc Liszt airport by Hungary’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó. From there Putin travelled to Budapest’s Heroes square under heavy security in an armoured limosine flown in from Moscow. At the square he placed a wreath at the tomb of the uknown soldier. From there the 30-vehicle convoy (32 including the two helicopters which accompanied it overhead) travelled to the National Cemetery where the Russian leader visited the recently renovated graves of Russian soldiers killed during the 1956 Hungarian uprising. There, with the help of what appeared to be unarmed Russian soldiers in ceremonial military garb, he placed a wreath at a recently restored monument to Soviet soldiers who lost their lives suppressing the 1956 “counter-revolution”.
From there Putin travelled to the Hungarian parliament for a two-hour meeting with Orbán. During this time Szijjártó reportedly met with Russian foreign minister Szergej Lavrov. After dinner the two leaders signed five cooperation agreements and held a joint press conference. Putin then traveled to the Sándor palace in the Castle District to meet Hungarian President János Áder. From there his motorcade took him to the airport for his return to Moscow.
Accompanying Putin were a large number of Russian officials, including Lavrov, Alekszandr Novak, minister for energy matters, Alekszej Uljukajev, minister for economic development, Nyikolaj Fjodorov, minister for agriculture, Pavel Popov, deputy minister of defense, Vlagyimir Megyinszkij, minister for culture, and Veronyika Szkvorcova, minister of health.
Accompanying them were Gazprom CEO Alekszej Miller, as well as Vlagyimir Jakunyin, head of Russian railways, and Szergej Kirijenko, the head of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation.
Over the course of Putin’s visit, various civil and political opposition groups expressed their objections in various ways:
Civil opposition movement “NowUs” (MostMi) ceremonially renamed Bajza street “Politkovszkaja street” after Anna Politkovskaj, the Russian investigative journalist murdered on Putin’s birthday in October 7, 2006. Since the murder of this implaccable critic of the Putin government, a large number of reporters have suffered similar fates under Putin’s “sovereign democracy.”
At a press conference held before Putin’s visit, Politics Can Be Different (LMP) co-chair Bernadett Szél told reporters that “two leaders of unequal stature who were in trouble were meeting in the Hungarian capital.” She said that thanks to Orbán “Hungary’s international stature has fallen to a low point, while Vladimir Putin needs to demonstrate that there are still EU leaders who are willing to talk to him.” She called “symbolic” the fact that Putin had laid a wreath at a memorial in Budapest that refers to the 1956 uprising as a “counter-revolution”.
At a press conference held by the Hungarian Socialist Party, parliamentary deputy caucus head Bertalan Toth said “Hungary’s independence is not a question of household utiity costs” and publicly asked the Prime Minister not to represent his own interests, or those of oligarchs or his party, but rather the interests of the Hungarian nation. Toth said there was no reason for Orbán to “barter away Hungary’s independence” and that for this reason it was important he not conclude a long-term gas contract with the Russian president.
In response to Toth’s comments, the Fidesz press office stated that an agreement concerning gas supplies was of fundamental interest to Hungary as it guaranteed the ability of Hungarian families to heat their homes in the future, and accused MSZP of having no understanding of Hungary’s energy policy. According to Fidesz, Hungary continues to stand on the side of peace, and will continue to seek a peaceful solution to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as well as stand up in the interest of the security of Hungarians living in Ukraine.
Putin’s motorcade took him past the Russian embassy where around 100 pro-Russian sympathizers demonstrated in support of Hungarian-Russian friendship and “peace”. Judging from their placards, many of them believe that the Western media is lying about events in Ukraine.
They also passed a number of anti-Russian protesters, including one women whose chest bore the inscription “Stop Putin.” As Putin’s motorcade passed, she lifted up her dress to reveal the text “Putin go home” with an arrow pointing towards her crotch on which she had painted the Russian flag. She was forcibly removed by policemen.
Reactions to Putin’s visit
Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP)
The Hungarian Socialist Party believes Viktor Orbán betrayed the interests of the Hungarian nation. Bertalan Tóth told reporters that the Russian president had used Hungary as a “prop” to demonstrate that there are EU and NATO members still willing to receive him. Tóth also accused Putin of using the visit to sell natural gas to Hungary at above current market prices and to see Hungarian state-owned gas storage facilities for himself. The MSZP politician demanded that the details of the two leaders two-hour meeting be made public, rejecting the notion that they only discussed matters pertaining to the five cooperation agreements to be signed later.
The small, liberal party said Putin’s visit was “unjustified and worrying”, the only purpose of which was for him to be able to “parade” in Europe. The party accused Orbán of making it possible for Russia to breach the diplomatic quarantine imposed on Russia by the European Union, for which they hold the Hungarian Prime Minister personally responsible.
Politcs Can Be Different (LMP)
LMP said Orbán had put Hungary on the road to complete dependence on Russia. Party co-chair Bernadett Szél said Orbán’s actions had increased Hungary’s vulnerability in energy matters.
Democratic Coalition (DK)
DK announced that Orbán had “betrayed Europe, the European community and Hungary” on Tuesday. DK MEP Péter Niedermüller told reporters that the Hungarian govenrment had “cowardly confused the facts that in the Russian-Ukraine conflict, Russia is the aggressor.” He said the Paks 2 nuclear plant expansion agreement essentially made “Hungary into a colony of Russia for the decades to come.”
On Wednesday DK’s Csaba Molnár announced that his party will call for the Hungarian parliament to condemn aggression against Ukraine. The managing deputy chairman of the party said Orbán, having failed to condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine during his trip to Kiev, “enthusiastically shook the murderer’s hand” on Tuesday, adding that “by selling out to Putin, Orbán had made himself a passive party to murder and aggression.”
Hungarian Liberal Party (MLP)
MLP said the meeting was good for the purpose of enabling the Russian President to humiliate the Prime Minister of Hungary. Party chairman Gábor Fodor said it was “shocking” that Putin should place a wreath at the same square where Orbán called for Soviet troops to leave Hungary in 1989. The former SZDSZ politician called “an insulting gesture to Hungary and its prime minister” the fact that Putin had placed a wreath in a parcel at the National Cemetery whose monument declares the 1956 Uprising a “counter-revolution.”
Fodor said “it was perfectly clear that the Russian president regards Viktor Orbán and Hungary to be a kind of vassal and that Moscow is dictating to the Hungarian Prime Minister.”
Hungary’s radical right-wing party was the only party other than Fidesz with anything positive to say about the Orbán-Putin meeting. Spokesman Ádam Mirkóczki called the agreement reached on future gas supplies an important result. However, he criticized as “cynical and dishonest” Orbán’s claim that EU sanctions against Russia were harmful. Mirkóczki said it was fine for Orbán to want peace, but that Jobbik would have expected him to state precisely what he intends to do.
With regard to the inscription on the monument at the National Cemetery, the Jobbik spokesman said it was “nonsense beyond compare.”