Viktor Orbán accuses Germany of leaving the ‘peace camp’
The Hungarian PM says the country has become more hawkish
While Western leaders gathered at the Munich Security Conference this weekend to reaffirm their commitment to helping Ukraine defeat Russia, the Hungarian president was pushing a very different interpretation of the war. In a State of the Nation address by Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian leader accused the West of a lack of interest in peace and alleged a collective rejection of negotiations with the Kremlin.
In Munich, attitudes to the war varied among Western leaders. On one side, Olaf Scholz berated allies for their slowness in sending heavy armour to Ukraine, while US Vice President Kamala Harris accused Russia of “crimes against humanity”, promising that those responsible will be “held to account”. Emmanuel Macron took a more nuanced line, arguing that Russia must be “defeated , not crushed.” And Viktor Orbán claimed that “only Hungary and the Vatican” remain interested in peace in Europe.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
Germany’s departure from the “peace camp” since Russia’s invasion began has, for Orbán, been the crucial factor in the war’s escalation to a “pan-European level”. He suggested that if Angela Merkel were still Chancellor, the war would have been defused quickly or prevented altogether, praising the “brave” Minsk agreements for having aimed at “peace instead of war.” Now, he said, Germany is sending Leopard tanks “rolling eastward across Ukrainian soil, towards the Russian border”.
Orbán implied that Berlin’s newfound militancy must be the result of “external pressure”, saying it’s “hard to believe that the Germans took this turn of their own accord”.
He then criticised two fundamental assumptions underpinning the West’s commitment to total Ukrainian victory. The Hungarian PM classified the war as a “conflict between two Slavic states”, saying that it is “their war, not ours” and reiterating the common Hungarian belief that the Ukraine war is not a moral struggle between good and evil.
He also critiqued the notion, mostly promulgated by his fellow Eastern European leaders, that Russia is bound to invade the ex-Soviet Baltic states which are now part of NATO if it can achieve success in Ukraine. Orbán claims this claim is risible, pointing out that “as far as conventional warfare is concerned, the Ukraine war has shown that Russia would not stand a chance against NATO.”
The only real threat of a NATO-Russia conflict is, Orbán believes, the potential use of nuclear weapons, and he argues that the West’s refusal to negotiate a ceasefire in Ukraine is only “increasing the chance of their use”.
By contrasting so markedly with the uncompromising rhetoric in Munich, Orbán’s speech was aimed at a domestic audience and designed to reinforce Hungarian perceptions that far-removed Western leaders are scheming to prolong the war in Ukraine at the expense of the wellbeing and long-term security of ordinary European citizens.
I have a lot of time for Orban. He talks commom sense, a language largely unknown to the majority of Western politicians.
In trying to understand why Orban said what he did, I think the article has it right: “Orbán’s speech was aimed at a domestic audience”. He may personally also believe the things he is saying, but who knows?
It’s too bad Hungary doesn’t have a border with Russia. I’d be in favor of kicking Hungary out of NATO, and telling Putin ‘your call’. Hungary can then find out the hard way if Russia is, or is not, an aggressive imperialistic power – as it has been for hundreds of years. Most of Russia’s neighbours, having had recent experience of that, aren’t in much doubt. Why Hungary seems not to, after 1956, is a bit beyond me. But if they want to be Russian slaves – hey, go for it.
The only one of that whole crew who has his head screwed on, IMO, is Macron.
Anyone who thinks a Russian move on the Baltics (which would lead to a Russia-NATO conflict, even if it stays localized) is inevitable is, IMO, seriously confused. Putin likes to roll dice, but I think the stakes of a move on the Baltics is beyond even him. (Orban is right on that one.)
Orban’s claim that “the West’s refusal to negotiate a ceasefire in Ukraine is ‘increasing the chance of the use'” of nuclear weapons is not really accurate, either. It is theoretically possible that in any circumstance in which Putin doesn’t get everything he wants, he’ll resort to use of nuclear weapons (somewhat in line with Russia’s insane/delusional ‘escalate to de-escalate‘ concept; which is basically ‘throw a lit stick of dynamite at an opponent, and hope they throw it away, instead of back at you’), but he could do that in almost any circumstances. The only way to be sure he won’t is to give him whatever he wants; i.e. willingly submit to nuclear blackmail.
I found Macrons words to be incredibly vague, a typical soundbite that sounds clever but has no actual meaning behind it. What does he mean by wanting Russia to lose but not be crushed? There is no chance of an invasion of Russia in my opinion so where does Macron draw the line if the Ukrainians were able to start liberating their territory?
If this is what Orban has said I couldn’t agree more
The key narrative is that we should help countries defend themselves against an aggressor and not support an aggressor. There is a difference between taking sides in a civil war and helping a defence against an external aggressor. Putin appears to rely on this but even allowing for media bias, there does seem to be a very strong majority in Ukraine to stay independent. So key questions are:
Does that majority include the Donbas and Crimea?
Should we make it clear we are not attacking the Russian people by limiting sanctions to military supplies?
Should we combine relaxing sanctions with a very positive statement that we will help Ukraine gain military control of its land and skies?
Should we ensure that support is pro-active?
Should we make it a condition of that support that when hostilities cease the population of the Donbas and Crimea will have a say in whether they remain in an independent Ukraine.
Hard to say about the Donbas and Crimea; in the 1991 independence referendum , the Donbas oblasts were all solidly in favor of independence; the Crimea was the only one that was close. Today – who knows; there may have been hopes for post-independence that didn’t play out, and that may change minds.
Fairly simple really – ha, ha! Ceasefire and have UN-supervised (with thousands of inspectors) referenda in every province (or whatever they are called) of Ukraine on staying Ukrainian or becoming “independent” (ie Russian). As long as that includes all who can reasonably prove residence in their region before 2014 – occupying soldiery not counting as residents. I would posit that they would all massively prefer Ukraine, except maybe Crimea, which wasn’t ever really Ukrainian anyway.
Although I concur with your predicted outcome, I can’t see the Russians genuinely agreeing to those terms. An old euphemism about the Russians: ‘What’s mine is mine; what’s yours is up for discussion.’ (There a reason it’s 10 time zones wide.)
Maybe Putin gets to formally keep Crimea, referendums in the areas that were under de facto Russian control before the invasion began a year ago, and the rest of Ukraine gets to join NATO?
Putin can claim he’s liberated Russian speakers, and the Ukrainians can be safe in the knowledge the Russians couldn’t invade again
Orban rallies for his friend Vladimir. Sad but no real surprise. If he actually condemned the invasion and brutality that has followed – shelling civilians etc, he might actually have helped convince Putin any chance of the West fracturing was lost and he should pull back. Then we’d have peace. But no Orban shows his true colours and therein helps strengthen Putin’s resolve as he can see he still has his Apologists doing their work to weaken resolve and create division. Probably not unhelpful though he shows these colours so we can see him for what he is – too reliant on the FSB who’ve probably played an active role in every election Orban has won.
And the final irony – Orban implies NATO should insist on a ceasefire over the head of Zelensky and the Ukrainians, whilst railing separately about having to follow EU club-rules he believes reduce Hungarian sovereignty. Consistency never the strong point of populists.
“NATO should insist on a ceasefire over the head of Zelensky and the Ukrainians, whilst railing separately about having to follow EU club-rules he believes reduce Hungarian sovereignty.” Touche. We may well find out if the Ukrainians will keep going n their own – I’ve long felt that their biggest threat is that their Western backers would get bored and move on, and that could definitely still happen.
I think that it is rather more Russia that left the ‘peace camp’, probably when they invaded Poland and the Baltic States in 1941! No sign of them wanting peace now, except as rulers of Ukraine.
Minor nit: Poland (and Finland) in 1939; the Baltics in 1940. 1941 was the Germans on Russia.
(Which was ironic; Russia sold the anti-German group down the river with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, allowing Hitler to start WWII; that war later engulfed the Russians too, in a horrible war. So in the long run the MRP was a loss for Russia. Maybe not, though; the Russians eventually came back, and got Prussia – which they retain to this day. Not sure the price they paid in WWII was worth it, though.)
Yes, let’s jump all the way from 1941 (or 1939, per Noel Chappa), to February 24, 2022. Let’s skip everything in between. Nothing at all happened during that period of time.
Indeed, nothing to be seen here, doves all the way!
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe