Over the past few months, Ukrainians have heard a lot of unpleasant things addressed to them from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and officials of his government. Although, according to September polls, 65% of Hungarians believed that their country was moving in the wrong direction. In the long text "Putinization of Hungarian politics: Kremlin fan Orbán is going to block military aid and Ukraine's accession to the EU," TSN.ua has already written how official Budapest openly plays on the side of the war criminal Putin not only against Kyiv, but also against the entire EU.

Now, on the eve of the EU summit on December 14-15, where Ukraine is waiting for a truly historic decision to open official accession negotiations, Hungary threatens to block it. And so far, the bloc's member states do not know how to overcome Budapest's probable veto. Earlier, Hungary complained about the mythical oppression of the Hungarian national minority in Ukraine, in particular regarding the language of instruction in Ukrainian schools, demanding an increase in the number of hours of education in Hungarian.

However, now it looks like this condition was just a cover, because Viktor Orbán says that the EU should first sign a strategic partnership agreement with Kyiv, and not start accession negotiations, which, in his opinion, should be returned to in 5-10 years. Politico writes that the EU has a radical "plan B": if Orbán at the EU summit on December 14-15 does definitely block the bloc's decision to open official accession negotiations for Ukraine, Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which allows the termination of a member state's voting rights over the bloc's decisions, can be applied to Budapest.

However, it is not for nothing that Politico assesses such a scenario as the most radical, because so far the application of Article 7 to Hungary is not unified among member states, because it may even lead to its withdrawal from the EU. Therefore, the bloc is currently considering compromise, in their opinion, options that are not too optimistic for Kyiv: to split 50 billion euros of aid for Ukraine (the decision to approve this package for 2024-2027, which should be used for the restoration, reconstruction and modernization of our country, should also be adopted at the EU summit in December – ed.) into smaller annual amounts; and do the same with €20 billion in military aid to Ukraine from the European Peace Facility for the next 4 years.

Already difficult relations between Ukraine and Hungary, especially on the eve of the EU summit, which is important for us, were fueled by the SBU reports that the fifth president, Petro Poroshenko, was banned from traveling abroad on a business trip, because, according to counterintelligence data, his meeting with Orbán was planned, which the Russian special services planned to use in their PSYOP against Ukraine. Hungary has already reacted: government spokesman Zoltan Kovács called it another proof that Ukraine is not ready for EU membership.

Therefore, in order to understand where Hungary is moving, what Ukraine should do, and how to overcome Budapest's resistance on the way to our European integration, TSN.uaasked Serhiy Herasymchuk, Deputy Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism", to write us an article about Hungary, and in particular about why the problem is not only in Viktor Orbán's policy.

Victory in Europe: right-wing populists on the march

Victor means "winner" in Latin. To some extent, this also applies to Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, who, with his political force Fidesz, has repeatedly won elections to the national parliament. Back in 1998, after winning the parliamentary elections, he became the youngest head of government. Despite the fact that in 2002 his political force was defeated in the elections, Viktor Orbán did not give up and continued the political struggle. And it paid off. In 2010, Fidesz won the elections again, and even won a constitutional majority. Since then, Viktor Orbán has begun to become an autocrat and the most powerful man in Hungary. From then until now, Viktor Orbán has been the permanent head of the Hungarian government, successfully manipulating crises that mobilize his voter and preserve his status as a winner. However, victories at the national level are not enough for the Hungarian prime minister, and in Hungary he is cramped. Orbán wants new victories.

At the beginning of June 2024, elections to the European Parliament will be held in the EU. Trends in member states indicate that, despite overwhelming support for EU membership among citizens of member states, they vote for Eurosceptics in national elections. Only recently, Eurosceptics in Slovakia have shown high rates, where Robert Fico's SMER won the parliamentary elections, which also entered into a coalition with the Slovak National Party (SNS), which is known for its far-right views. In the elections in Poland, the largest faction was won by the Law and Justice political force, which will not be able to form a government, but has already launched a rather aggressive campaign based on criticism of the EU to strengthen its presence in the European Parliament. In addition, the far-right "Confederation" entered the parliament, which, under anti-European slogans, also seeks to enter the European Parliament.

In the Netherlands, the scandalous anti-European far-right Freedom Party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, won the parliamentary elections, which increases its chances of ranking well in the elections to the European Parliament. Finally, in Romania, the indicators of the populist Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) are also growing, which is also likely to be represented in the European Parliament (an openly anti-Ukrainian political force that, according to opinion polls in November, reached 20% support, which is a problem for the Social Democrats in power – ed.).

Viktor Orbán benefits from this balance of power. For a long time, his Fidesz was also part of the respectable "club" of the European People's Party (EPP). However, in 2021, after the EPP leadership noted undemocratic practices in Hungary, Fidesz left the EPP bloc by loudly slamming the door. Since then, Viktor Orbán has placed his main bet on Eurosceptics and hopes that in the new European Parliament, Fidesz will be able to take a dominant place in the relevant faction, if not lead it.

Victory in the USA: a bet on Trump's victory

As for the United States, Viktor Orbán is not in the best situation in this direction. If Donald Trump appreciates Viktor Orbán (although he sometimes confuses which country he is the prime minister), then relations with the Biden Administration are not easy. It is rumored that Orbán even sarcastically pointed out that the United States deliberately appointed David Pressman as Ambassador to Hungary (even before his appointment to Budapest, the diplomat stated that democracy in Hungary was in decline, so it was necessary to resist Russian influence on the Hungarian government – ed.) so that he would "press" the Hungarian government. That's how it is now. Ambassador Pressman is one of Ukraine's most vocal advocates and critics of Viktor Orbán's illiberal government.

However, even here, the Hungarian "winner" (Orbán – ed.) does not give up, not abandoning hope that Donald Trump will return to the White House in the next presidential election (in the United States in November 2024 – ed.). Then Hungary's stakes in international politics will increase significantly.

Russia's Victory: Scenarios for Ukraine

Hungary's relations with Russia deserve special mention. In his hopes for the victories of Eurosceptics in the EU and Trump in the United States, Viktor Orbán does not ignore the Russian factor. He is aware that changes in trends on Euro-Atlantic shores could affect Brussels and Washington's relations with Moscow. Then Hungary, which still keeps all diplomatic channels open with Russia, will be able to play the role of a mediator and earn considerable political dividends on this.

Even without this, Budapest has repeatedly expressed its readiness to become a platform for Ukrainian-Russian negotiations. Hungary is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas supplies. The nuclear power plant in the city of Paks is being built at the expense of Rosatom, so it is not surprising that Viktor Orbán is consistently trying to block European sanctions against the relevant industries.

At the same time, not only economic, but also political goals are pursued. Viktor Orbán satisfies Moscow's wishes to block sanctions, slow down support for Ukraine and postpone the decision on Ukraine's negotiations on EU membership in order to have warm relations with the Kremlin while formally in the EU and NATO, and therefore ideally fit for the role of a mediator. However, Viktor Orbán does not believe in Ukraine's victory, so such negotiations with his mediation can only become negotiations on surrender.

At the moment, it seems that it is impossible to change Viktor Orbán's views. No matter what concessions Ukraine makes on sensitive issues for Hungary, Budapest will always come up with new reasons to keep relations in suspense.

There are only two factors that could fundamentally change Budapest's views.

The first factor is the fall of Viktor Orbán's government. Despite the fact that Fidesz has an overwhelming majority in the Hungarian parliament, the social situation is far from precarious.

State employees periodically try to strike. Doctors, teachers, even representatives of the security forces do not receive the additional payments promised by Fidesz in the elections, and this outrages them. However, the opposition is too weak and heterogeneous, so it is possible that early elections would again give the winner Viktor Orbán the opportunity to win another victory.

The second factor is Ukraine's victory. The winner, Viktor Orbán, loves and respects the winners. So, if Ukraine won the war with Russia, Budapest's rhetoric would obviously change. But to do this, Kyiv needs resources, Western support, internal unity, and, ultimately, a clearly articulated understanding of victory.