MOSCOW— Most of the European Union leaders seeking to defuse tensions between Russia and Ukraine have traveled to Kyiv and Washington. However, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary will visit Moscow on Tuesday to meet President Vladimir V. Putin, in a visit that opposition parties have denounced as “treason”.
Orban, perhaps the Kremlin’s closest ally inside the European Union, has long been accused of undermining the 27-member bloc’s common foreign policy when it comes to priorities like Russia and Ukraine. and China.
“Mr. In fact, Orban is acting as a tool in Russian foreign policy,” said Peter Kreko, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and director of Political Capital, a research group in Budapest, said.
Relations between Kyiv and Budapest have soured because of a 2017 language law that Hungary says discriminates against ethnic Hungarians in the west of the country. Since then, Budapest has blocked the activities of the NATO-Ukraine Council, the main forum for the military alliance to engage with Kyiv.
But critics say Orban carried Putin’s water long before that. After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2015, Mr Orban opposed the imposition of EU sanctions, although Hungary ultimately signed off on them.
The Ukraine crisis has intensified calls for the European Union, which collectively supplies 40% of natural gas from Russia, to diversify its energy supplies. Orban, however, did the opposite: He signed a 15-year gas supply contract with Gazprom in September. On Friday, he said he would seek to significantly increase the amount of gas supplied by Russia. for Hungary.
The new contract is seen as weakening Kyiv, as the delivery route will go through Ukrainian pipelines.
Hungary has also dismissed the question of increasing the presence of NATO troops on its territory, unlike other European nations that were behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Last week, Budapest’s Foreign Ministry signaled that it would not organize more NATO troops and said it would not increase aid to Ukraine.
Defense Minister Tibor Benko said Budapest was not opposed to the deployment of NATO troops in the vicinity of Ukraine, but he said that Hungary should “carry out this task on its own”.
Mr Orban declined to criticize Russia during a radio appearance on Friday, saying his priority for the trip to Moscow was “a balanced economic relationship”.
Orban’s policies are at odds with public opinion in his country. NATO is the most popular international organization in the country, according to a poll last year from consultancy GLOBSEC. Less than 10% of Hungarians said they would even consider leaving the military union.
Mr. Kreko said that Orban, during his visit to Moscow at a time of heightened tensions with the West, gave Putin a foreign policy victory by showing that the European Union and NATO were working. divided over Ukraine.
Mr Kreko said Tuesday’s press conference with Mr Putin was a “loyalty test” for Mr Orban.
“If he doesn’t contradict Putin when it comes to the Ukraine crisis, then we have a problem,” he said.
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