Hungary Rejects Trojan Horse Label After Russian Nuclear Deal

  • Hungary won’t veto sanctions on Russia alone, Szijjarto says
  • Minister says Hungary respects allies who see Russia as threat

Hungary pushed back against criticism that it’s acting like Russia’s Trojan horse in the European Union, with its top diplomat saying the nation won’t veto sanctions against Moscow if the rest of the trading bloc agrees to extend them.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto made the pledge hours after his prime minister, Viktor Orban, called President Vladimir Putin to discuss Russia’s 12.5 billion-euro ($13.2 billion) expansion of Hungary’s nuclear plant, which the EU approved after a more than yearlong probe. The decision followed Orban’s discounting the sanctions against Russian companies, individuals and industries that deepened an economic recession in the world’s biggest energy producer last month.

Peter Szijjarto on March 7.

Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

“It’s totally clear that we alone won’t veto” EU sanctions, Szijjarto said. “We’ve always fallen in line for the sake of preserving EU unity even when we weren’t happy about it.”

The EU imposed the penalties on Russia after it annexed Crimea and supported insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Hungary criticized the move as “shooting oneself in the foot” because the sanctions also triggered retaliatory measures that hurt EU members’ economies. The bloc has since linked the duration of the sanctions to whether a cease-fire agreement signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk is fully observed.

Sanctions Failed

Hungary still wants to have a debate in the EU about whether the asset freezes, visa bans and other measures have served their purpose instead of automatically rolling them over, Szijjarto said. He said the penalties had failed because “it was a declared goal that, with the sanctions, we could nudge Russia to fully implement the Minsk agreement.” In December, the EU extended the sanctions, which require unanimity among EU leaders. Ukraine, the pro-Russian rebels and the Kremlin accuse one another of repeatedly breaching the truce.

“Why can’t we have an agenda item to discuss the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Ukraine’s situation and sanctions,” asked Szijjarto. “What do we think so far and what should we do differently? Maybe at the end of the day we’ll conclude that we have no better answer for it.”

Szijjarto rejected any speculation over a quid pro quo for Hungary from Russia for choosing Rosatom Corp. to complete the nuclear plant, which it did after it scrapped a competitive bidding process. He said Putin hasn’t applied pressure on Budapest to veto the sanctions.

“We’re not in the same league, so Vladimir Putin isn’t about to turn to us,” Szijjarto said. “If he at all wants something from anyone, he’ll bring it up with people in his own league.”

‘Existential Threat’

Unlike its peers in eastern Europe, Hungary doesn’t see Russia as an “existential threat,” Szijjarto said, though the government “understands and respects that the Polish and Baltic states” -- Hungary’s allies in NATO -- “see Russia as just that.”

Thousands of U.S. troops arrived in Poland in January to shore up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern frontier, where countries fear that after Russia’s military foray in Ukraine, Putin may try to re-establish Soviet-era influence over a region that largely joined the EU and the military alliance after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The nervousness extends to Scandinavia, where Sweden announced earlier this month that it planned to reinstate military conscription to counter Russia’s military buildup in the Baltic Sea.

As a fellow NATO member, Hungary’s duty to its allies “is to show solidarity and help them in any way we can,” Szijjarto said. “But if the question is: ‘do I think Russia would attack a NATO country,’ then my answer is that I don’t think so.”

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