Washington more concerned about Orbán’s pro-Russian politics than his authoritarianism

István Dobozi, a foreign policy adviser and a former senior economist with the World Bank, wrote a piece for the conservative Magyar Nemzet daily, in which he argued that under President Donald Trump, bilateral relations between Hungary and the United States have only improved ever so slightly, compared to its low point under the Obama administration. However, he added that Washington’s primary concern is not the demise of the rule-of-law in Hungary, but rather the Orbán government’s pro-Russian political orientation.

Pointing to the more recent demise of liberal democracy in Poland (and to a lesser extent, growing concerns around populism in the Czech Republic), Mr. Dobozi notes how much more vociferous the United States has been in its critiques of Budapest than of Warsaw. It’s worth noting, of course, that Mr. Orbán over the last nearly eight years has come much further than Poland in dismantling the system of checks of balances and in creating a de facto one-party state–a state where the ruling party most likely cannot be dislodged from power through elections. But Mr. Dobozi believes that the fact that a country like Poland would be the target of far less criticism and retaliation from Washington than Hungary points to the possibility that America’s real concern is not the state of democracy as such, but the given country’s rapport with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Mr. Dobozi argues that Washington was genuinely “shocked” by the Kremlin’s successful military interventions in Georgia, Ukraine and in Syria. Following this, foreign policy and military leaders in the U.S. came to see not China, but rather Russia as the primary geopolitical rival. For instance, Wess Mitchell, the current Assistant Secretary at the State Department, in charge specifically of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, accused Russia of “predatory” revisionism, noting that Moscow was attempting to destabilize and increase its clout in the so-called “Near Abroad” (the former Soviet states), as well as in Eastern Europe. Russia aims to achieve this through misinformation campaigns, espionage and clandestine military operations, as well as increasing the dependency on Russian energy.

During his confirmation hearings, Mr. Mitchell declared:

“The Russian government must understand that a return to normal relations will be impossible as long as it attacks its neighbors, abuses its people and attempts to undermine confidence in America’s institutions and those of our allies. If confirmed, I will urge Moscow to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and the Balkans and to end its support for hostile regimes in Syria and Iran. I will also support efforts to reduce the vulnerabilities of our allies and partners to corruption, disinformation, and other forms of malign influence that Russia uses to weaken their institutions and civil societies.”

In this international dynamic, Mr. Mitchell sees Hungary as being “pragmatically accommodating” to Russia. Mr. Mitchell also contrasted Hungary’s approach with that of the Baltic States, Poland and Romania. The former group “resists” Moscow, while Hungary accommodates President Putin. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, President Putin has visited Hungary on four occasions, and these frequent high-level visits go against an unwritten policy among G7 countries, promoted by the Americans, to avoid bilateral meetings with the Russian president whenever possible. Perhaps even more critically, Washington sees Hungary’s decision to go ahead with the Russian expansion of the Paks atomic plant and Mr. Orbán’s support for Gazprom’s “TurkStream” pipeline as a sign of disloyalty to the interests of the Trans-Atlantic alliance.

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán in February 2017. Photo: MTI.

Hungarian officials had expected the relationship between Hungary and the U.S. to warm significantly after Mr. Trump’s election. This has not happened.  As our readers will likely know, that the State Department launched a $700,000 grant to establish or strengthen the democratic media in rural Hungary, thus enraging the Orbán government. As well, despite claims to the contrary, Washington is in no rush whatsoever to extend a much coveted Oval Office invitation to Viktor Orbán. The Americans have indicated that such a visit may happen after the North Korean crisis is resolved. In other words: Budapest should not hold its breath.

29 Comments

  1. György Lázár says:

    In that article Dobozi also makes some interesting observations about Hungary’s energy policy and its close ties and cooperation with Russia in that sector. I think his analysis is correct. Orbán must change Hungary’s energy policy… and of course there is the question of Paks II.

    Istvan Dobozi is a World Bank Lead Energy consultant. He joined the World Bank in 1992 and retired in 2013. Among other things, he has been managing the Bank’s energy project portfolio and energy policy dialogue in Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary. Before joining the Bank, he taught at the Arizona State University and the Colorado School of Mines. He started his professional career in Hungary teaching and researching at the Budapest University of Economics and the Institute for World Economy. Authored or co-authored a number of books including “Energy and Economic Reform in the Former Soviet Union” and published numerous articles in leading energy and natural resource journals, including Resources Policy, Natural Resources Forum and Minerals and Energy.

  2. 1) Hungary is not any friendlier towards Russia than Germany for instance. And Germany is far more significant in this regard. Let us not forget that Hungary is among the countries opposed to Nord Stream 2, while Germany and others are for it. That is a clear example where Hungary is opposed to a major Russian interest, because it is not in its own interests.

    2) Hungary is not a “one-party state”. It just so happens that the left opposition is extremely unpopular at the moment, thanks to the 2002-2010 fiasco, as well as their behavior and positions in opposition, while Orban made a number of good calls on IMF, FX debt, migrants and so on.

    3) Poland, Romania the Baltic states are not “resisting” Russia. They are blatantly Rusophobic, out of step with much of the rest of the EU and out of step with their own interests. I understand that it would be in US and globalist interests to turn others into extreme Rusophobes, but it is not in Hungary’s interests. Hungarian governments should serve the interests of Hungary, not of US, Russia, globalist fanatics, or anyone else.

    4) There is nothing going on in Hungary that is more autocratic compared with some of the stuff happening in Western Europe or US. Just look at Germany’s media laws and actions, or at France’s anti-terror laws, or US NSA program.

    Some objectivity might gain some credibility! This type of propaganda has become more blatant than what the communists were doing, which is why people are increasingly not buying.

    • Yes your parroting of the agit prop panels won’t make them truths:
      1. Putin has Orban by the ba..s and Hungary is buying Paks2, maybe Paks3 as well, subway cars, blasting the EU the US and all these stand for, praising the Putin rule instead. Assuming that Orban is also being bribed by the Russians, they are entangling him ever stronger.
      2. Hungary is a fascist “light” state, more precisely the post communist mafia state described by B.Magyar. Full stop.
      3. Orban made a career as a primitive Russophob, before Putin showed him the komoromat in 2008, I suspect.
      4. Pls get off it. In Hun the Orban mafia state doesn’t care even about their own laws, e.g. despite the Court ruling on the matter, the same protester for Tibet, was again arrested and next day again prevented from demonstrating, azt jò napot as the half baked half gypsy ruler expressed his contemp for the law.

      • Forgive me for pointing out an obvious fact, but aside from your labeling my points as “agit prop”, you presented no factual evidence of my views being in any way wrong. Take point #1 for instance. Can you provide a valid counter-argument? Simply labeling ones arguments as “propaganda”, without bringing some valid counter-arguments to the table is not a counter-argument. Your ideological views are not self-evident truths, even if you think they are.

      • Evidence?!
        Every day, hundreds of articles, studies and some books: e.g. just this week
        – J.Debreceni’s book about the Orban regime and
        – the open letter of former EU commissioners asking Junker to suspend EU payments until democracy is restored and corruption addressed.
        – five posts on Hungarian Spectrum, two here, Hadhàzi exposing consultation fraud, etc etc.

        Read man.

        • Yes, I asked for reasonable evidence to show that point #1 is wrong, namely that Hungary is in any way friendlier towards Russia than Germany. Read man!

          As for the “Viktator” campaign, yes there are hundreds of articles in the MSM, and there are countless leftist Hungarians aiding this propaganda campaign. I pointed out in my original comment, the reasons why I believe this is hypocritical propaganda. Sticking with Germany, and looking at media freedom, can you point to a single instance where the entire Hungarian media fell into line for Orban like the German media did for five whole days when they kept silent in regards to the mass-molestation of at least 1,200 women in a number of German towns, in order to give the authorities a chance to try to sweep it under the carpet? I don’t think you can find such a parallel in Hungary, therefore looking at one of the charges against Hungary, I’d say it is pure hypocrisy to mention media freedom. Not to mention Germany’s new law on social media, which is meant to intimidate the likes of Facebook into removing all anti-migrant rhetoric. If that is not ideological dictatorship, I don’t know what is! Hungary is currently doing no such thing! Or can you give an example of a media outlet or social media being intimidated into removing pro-migrant opinions in Hungary?

          Yes, I do read man! But I also like to think, evaluate, compare, weigh, and most importantly fact-check.

        • Peter
          There’s little point running these circles, but:
          – you prove the nonsensical assertions re the 1200 women and that the entire German press conspired …
          Unril then these remain propaganda lies, not far from the “Jewish threat” propaganda in the 1930s”.

          – Propaganda by the Hungarian regime: a single entity MTA prepares the “news” to all gov 6 TV channels, two web and the many gov controlled print media.
          Look at the incredible photo of a dozen countryside papers displaying identical front page where only the name of the publication differs.

  3. Russia not only has built that Paks powerplant, but now will update and expend it, also will finance its cost at a lower rate than the WB. Most of Europe is more than eager to trade with Russia, and do depend on Russia for oil and gas. So what’s the big bru-ha-ha?

  4. P.S.
    Orban need not to come to US.
    Save the cost of the flight and save the Earth from a few tonns of CO2 caused by his flight.
    The staff can handle everything that are on the ground on both sides.
    Beside, nobody needs the show !

    • Based on US visit of Romania’s president, which was followed immediately by an announcement of some major US arms sales to Romania, i’d say Trump has decided to monetize the prestige of being invited to WH. Romania agreed to pay $4.5 billion for some arguably outdated air defense system designed during the cold war. This, while it is suffering from an extreme infrastructure deficit. For instance, it has only 1/3 the freeway length that Hungary has, with a population & territory that is double. If Orban never visits white house, I will take that as a sign that he once more made the right decision. China’s prime minister, representing an economy that is almost as large as that of the US, just recently visited Hungary, with no strings attached, just in search of common interests. The US increasingly demands a very heavy price just to be a vassal state!

    • Peter
      What a gal to talk about vassal! Just look at the cringing Orban next to the calm Putin with his cynical smile, csicskàs.

      Don’t know what have the Chinese given to Orban to make him shell out 700 bil Ft (only God knows how much would that be at the end) for a railway Hun doesn’t need at all, but China very much benefits from.

      • Yes, very observant of you observer. What ever could Hungary do with some infrastructure? I mean, it is only good for transporting goods!

      • What’s the benefit from Chinese goods transiting from Pireus to Central/Western Eu on an expensive railw built by mainly Chinese but paid by Hun?

        My guess: it is another “deal of the century” for the Orban mafia ripping off billions, again.

        • When Japanese goods started to flood the US, it did not take long for Americans to figure out that there are also things that they can sell to the Japanese, thus filling those empty containers for the return trip. For instance, they figured out that the Japanese eat a lot of Soy. Do you really think that there is no benefit for land-locked Hungary to gain fast rail access to a major port? Or do you think that those empty containers will just return empty?

      • Peter

        And btw I’m glad that for once we agree that Orban has become Putin’s csicskàs.

  5. Of course the US concerned about Hungary becoming too friendly with Russia. That’s the national interest of the US. US does not care about the struggle the reds have with Orban. That’s a local matter there.

    As for the Chinese PM visiting Eastern Europe, it is their policy to make inroads in that part of the world. China is going global.

    • Hungarian Free Press says:

      Your reference to “reds” battling Mr. Orbán is absurd. Who are you referring to? The dozens of old communists who are now prominent members of Mr. Orbán’s ruling party? Because calling the current left-centre opposition “red” is nonsense. Parties like MSZP and DK are politically conservative in comparison to most quarters of the Democratic Party in the U.S. or the ruling Liberal Party in Canada.

    • HFP
      I suspect Bende97 is used by more than on person (one of them not that smart) or Bende forgets to take his pill from time to time and succumbs to bouts of schizofrenia or delusional something, e.g.
      – where can one see “reds” these days and
      – how can being deeply dependent on and in debt to Putin be goo for Hungary?

  6. Dear Christopher:
    Congratulation for the EXCELLENT TRANSLATION OF THE ARTICLE OF ISTVÁN DOBOZI.
    But Probably PLAGIARUM IS A BETTER WORD THAN TRANSLATION, isn’t it?
    Will the “Free” “Hungarian” Press allow to appear this comment?
    Sure what is sure, I send it to István Dobozi this comment. I am sure he will greatly appreciate you, az an Interpeter, Christopher…

    • Hungarian Free Press says:

      This is not a translation, nor is anyone here an “interpreter” for Mr. Dobozi. This is a summary of his article, incorporating additional information from Wess Mitchell’s confirmation hearing, and with a link to the original Hungarian-language piece in Magyar Nemzet.

    • Bandi–

      “Sure what is sure”? Let me guess, in Hungarian this is “biztos ami biztos.” Did you get Google translate to automatically generate this sad example of Hunglish for you? Báj dö véj, Bandi: if you don’t want to look like a Fidesz hack, how about you don’t put Hungarian in quotation marks and stop insinuating that a paper critical of your favoured regime is “un-Hungarian.”

    • Balthazar

      This Bandi, while at it he may take some English lessons too, can’t he?

      Baj dö vej, there was in interview with Dobozi on Klub radio, can be played from archives Dec 3, after the 9 am news.

  7. Guys,

    Here’s one piece you can’t even imagine, let alone make up:

    https://444.hu/2017/12/01/a-finn-gyerekek-katedralisokat-gyujtanak-fel-veres-utcai-zavargasokat-provokalnak-es-tomeggyilkossagokat-rendeznek-osztalytarsaik-koreben

    As you can see it was reproduced in 19 local papers (owned by Mészaros/Orban).
    For English speakers my translation of the conclusion:
    “.. the Finncish choldren allegedly are very happy (in their education system), as an expression of this happiness they burn cathedrals and churches, sometimes provoke bloody street riots, and in some schools carry out mass murders of schoolmates with the weapons of their parents”.

    And NO, these are NOT quotations from the ranting of a deranged lunatic, this is Hungarian gov press.

    I rest my case.

  8. I know Mr. Dobozi from the days when Hungary was a one-party dictatorship. He has has always been known as a pragmatist. Belzebub and Peter I only know from these pages. They are known as wingnuts, that fly off the thread with great regularity. Anyone who take them seriously does so at their own risk.

  9. I meant to say – Bendeguz, which is close to Belzebúb – as if that makes any difference in the great scheme of things.

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