Ukraine war: Sanctions on Russian oil and gas a 'red line' for Hungary, says Orban

Access to the comments Comments
By Alice Tidey
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban acknowledges cheering supporters during an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, April 3, 2022.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban acknowledges cheering supporters during an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, April 3, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Hungary's newly re-elected prime minister, Viktor Orban, stressed on Wednesday that Hungary will block any attempt by the EU to extend sanctions to Russian oil and gas.

He also dismissed the rule of law spat with Brussels.

Orban secured a fourth term at the helm of the country in Sunday's legislative election as his nationalist-populist Fidesz party gathered more than 53% of the vote and obtained a two-thirds parliamentary "super-majority."

'It will kill Hungary'

The pro-Russian leader, seen as an ally to President Vladimir Putin, said that as with fellow EU member states, he puts the blame for the war on Moscow, describing it as the "aggressor" and calling for "atrocities against civilians" to be strongly condemned and investigated.

On sanctions against Russia, he said Budapest has so far backed the different rounds, because "unity (in the EU) is important" but warned that extending sanctions to include the oil and gas sectors is "a red line".

"It will kill Hungary," he argued, adding that the sanctions are also significantly damaging the European economy.

He called on Brussels to take "immediate action" to mitigate the impact sanctions are having on energy prices and said that Hungary is prepared to pay for Russian energy products in roubles if asked to do so.

The Kremlin has passed a decree demanding foreign buyers pay in the domestic currency as sanctions have largely disconnected Russian banks from global systems and frozen the Russian Central Bank's foreign reserves.

Orban also defended his action with Putin and said he invited him, along with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Olaf Scholz, to meet in Budapest to discuss a possible armistice or ceasefire.

"The response was positive but the Russian President says he has certain conditions," he added, without elaborating on these.

He also reiterated that Hungary will not provide any weapons to Ukraine and rebuked Zelenskyy, who on Sunday had criticised Western leaders, namechecking Orban, for not providing Ukraine with certain weapons including fighter jets, tanks, and anti-missile systems.

President Zelenskyy "has a bad habit of telling everyone what to do," Orban told reporters. "It would be better if he dropped that habit. It's unusual for someone in trouble to ask for help and tell you to help him, and if you don't help him, he'll tell you off."

'No outstanding issues' with EU over rule of law

Orban, who has built his career on Brussels-bashing while pocketing EU money, spoke a day after Ursula von der Leyen poured cold water on his election victory by announcing that the European Commission will send a letter of notification to Budapest about triggering the rule of law mechanism.

This could see EU funds withheld from Hungary over rule of law breaches.

The Hungarian prime minister said however: "I'd like to see that letter, all the more so because I don't actually understand the situation."

Von der Leyen had said in her address to MEPs on Tuesday that Brussels and Budapest have "not been able to find common ground" on how to tackle corruption in the country.

Orban said he did "not know of any outstanding issues" and that "it's just not true, we have agreed on all these issues".

Regarding Article 7 proceedings, launched by the Commission in 2018 against Warsaw and Budapest and that open the door to possible sanctions including a suspension of voting rights on the European Council, Orban confirmed that "with the Polish, we are in a mutual defensive alliance. We will not allow each other to be excluded from European decision-making".

The procedures have stalled because sanctions required unanimity among leaders.

Orban, who has in the past thinly referred to a possible Huxit in the hope of pressuring the bloc into caving to his demand, stressed on Wednesday that "we imagine our future in the EU".

He pledged to "actively participate in forming the EU of the future" and also spoke of stronger ties with NATO, of which Hungary is a member.

_Orban's comments came at a press conference involving international media on Wednesday. Read below how the event unfolded. _

04.06.2022
16:47

That's it from us. Have a good afternoon.

04.06.2022
15:34

Zelenskyy has 'bad habit' of telling people what to do: Orban

Orban said that the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, "has a bad habit of telling everybody what to do."

"It would be better if he dropped that habit. It's unusual for someone in trouble to ask for help and tell you to help him, and if you don't help in, he'll tell you off," he added.

He had reiterated earlier in the conference that "Hungary will not be delivering weapons to Ukraine. We will not succumb to the pressure."

04.06.2022
15:21

I 'won't concede on gender: Orban

Budapest has been condemned by Brussels because of a law that criminalise teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues to children.

A referendum on the law, held on Sunday alongside the election, was ruled not valid because fewer than half of the country's registered voters cast a ballot.

Orban stressed on Wednesday that he will "not concede anything on the gender issue".

04.06.2022
15:15

Further oil and gas sanctions against Russia 'red line': Orban

The Hungarian leader stressed that Hungary is against any extension of sanctions against Russian oil and gas, describing it as a "red line".

He added that such an extension "will kill Hungary."

04.06.2022
15:03

Hungary and Poland in 'defensive alliance' over EU punitive measures

Orban said that "with the Polish, we are in a mutual defensive alliance. We will not allow each other to be excluded from European decision-making."

The EU has triggered Article 7 procedures against Warsaw and Budapest in 2018 that open the door to sanctions within the EU including a suspension of voting rights on the Council.

But the procedures have stalled because moving them forward requires unanimity among leaders.

Orban conceded however that Poland and Hungary have divergences, especially on foreign policy.

04.06.2022
14:57

'I don't understand' the situation over rule of law mechanism: Orban

The Hungarian Prime Minister said regarding Ursula von der Leyen's announcement that the Commission will send a letter of notification to Budapest about triggering the rule of law mechanism: "I'd like to see that letter all the more so because I don't actually understand the situation."

"I do not know of any outstanding issues", he said, referring to von der Leyen's comment that Brussels and Budapest have been unable to find common down to crack down on corruption in Hungary.

"It's just not true, we have agreed on all these issues," he argued. 

04.06.2022
14:53

Hungary needs strong opposition: Orban

The populist leader said he sympathises with the opposition.

"I have lost enough elections so I understand what happens on the other side," he said. "I understand that it's difficult to actually process the defeat."

"I wish them all the best", he went on, adding: "Let them get their act together."

"We need a parliament in which, besides the government, there are other voices," he said.

04.06.2022
14:48

Russia and Hungary 'opposite parties': Orban

Orban stressed that when he speaks to Russian authorities including Putin, "we are on opposite sides" as "Hungary is a member of NATO, Hungary is a member of the EU."

"We have built a relationship that is functioning but is falling apart," he added, stressing that for better or for worse: "Russia is going to be around."

"They will be where they are and we will also be located where we are," he said.

04.06.2022
14:44

Russia is the aggressor: Orban

Orban, who is pro-Russia and seen as a close ally of Putin, was pointedly asked who he thought started the war.

"It is quite clear," he said. "This is war that was started by Russia", also describing Moscow as "the aggressor."

He called for "all the atrocities" to be investigated and said that "any atrocity against civilians has to be firmly condemned".

04.06.2022
14:40

Sanctions on Russia hurting EU: Orban

Orban said that the bloc's economy is becoming weaker, naming sanctions against Russia as "the most important contributing factor."

He said that "we have to be prepared to pay the price".

He also added that Hungary backed the sanctions, despite knowing it was not necessarily in its best interest, because "unity is important".

"We are members of one union, so be it," he said.