Orbán’s three perspectives on the Russian-Ukrainian War

Orbán’s three perspectives on the Russian-Ukrainian War

Gela Merabishvili

Executive Summary

Hungary stands out from other Eastern and Central European states in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian War. While Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have provided plenty of political and military support to Ukraine and significantly reduced economic ties with Russia, Hungary’s Fidesz-led government has tried to maintain trade and diplomacy with Moscow while showing only tepid solidarity with Ukraine. This article explains the reasons behind Hungary’s particular position by analyzing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s discourse.

By categorizing Orbán’s discourse into local, national and global geographical scales, the article identifies three main factors shaping the Hungarian response to the war:

  1. The distrust between Hungary and Ukraine derives from the several years of politicization of the Hungarian transborder community in Ukraine’s westernmost region of Transcarpathia.
  2. Hungary’s reliance on the Russian oil and gas led to Orbán’s decision to stick with Russia as an economic partner. Simultaneously, the April 2022 election period encouraged his populist narrative, prioritising Hungary’s economic needs over solidarity with Ukraine.
  3. Orbán’s long-existing geopolitical vision of a multipolar world led him to view the Russian-Ukrainian War as a materialization of the great power rivalry between the US and Russia, where each seeks to expand its zone of influence. This geopolitical view then justifies Hungary’s neutral role. Orbán reframes Hungary’s neutrality in the discourse of peace versus war, whereby Hungary represents an “island of peace” and himself ­– a promoter of peace. At the same time, the great powers and their local proxies are only interested in continuing the war.