Vlad Beyond Reproach

Russian soldier on patrol at Simferopol International Airport in Crimea.

Russian soldier on patrol at Simferopol International Airport in Crimea.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been one of the few political leaders of European Union member states who did not explicitly condemn Russia’s military intervention in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Ukraine beginning on February 27, 2014. Prime Minister Orbán, in fact, said nothing at all about the intervention for a full week after it began. The following are Orange Files translations of the prime minister’s initial, cursory comment about the Russian military  intervention in Ukraine on March 3 and more detailed comment regarding the incursion on March 4. Note that more than 150,000 Hungarians live in western Ukraine, a region that is known in Hungarian as Subcarpathian Ukraine (Kárpátalja). 

 On March 3 Prime Minister Orbán said (source in Hungarian): 

Hungary is not part of this conflict. Hungarians are secure. In Hungary and in Subcarpathian Ukraine as well. And the Hungarian government is working to ensure that they remain secure. Moreover, our foreign minister is currently in Brussels. Hungary is part of the common European efforts aimed at achieving peace, security and respect for international law. We are working toward these objectives within the context of united European crisis-management.

On March 4 Prime Minister Orbán said (source in Hungarian):

For us the most important thing in this whole conflict is the security of Hungarians. This includes both Hungarians living in Hungary and Hungarians living in Subcarpathian Ukraine. This is the perspective from which we examine the events. And that is why we sent the foreign minister to Subcarpathian Ukraine—so that he could make it clear to the Hungarians who live there that the Hungarians living in Subcarpathian Ukraine can count on us. The second Hungarian interest according to which we are gauging our steps pertains to Ukraine itself. It is in the Hungarian interest that Ukraine be a democratic state. Thus we want a democratic Ukraine, a Ukraine in which Ukrainian citizens can feel secure and at home, including citizens who belong to minorities, thus the Hungarians as well. This is why Hungary cannot accept the annulment of the language law. We consider this to be an illegitimate decision and we insist that the rights due to Hungarians are not impaired as a result of the changes in Ukraine. With regard to a resolution of the situation, the Hungarian  viewpoint is a negotiated settlement. There is an obvious situation: Russia borders Ukraine from the east and the European Union from the west. From this it follows that Russia and the European Union must negotiate. We believe that negotiation is the only alternative to war. Therefore we want negotiation and not armed conflict—peace and not blood. In order to achieve this it is necessary that the two sides, the European Union and Russia, hold talks. Moreover, I am going to support the position in Brussels that the European Union must make an immediate response to Russian military movements. This response cannot be of military nature. The response must be decisive, immediate and of an integrative nature. . . . 

The fundamental messages contained in Prime Minister Orbán’s delayed responses to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine were, in order of their pronouncement: “Hungary is not part of the conflict”; “the most important thing in this whole conflict is the security of Hungarians . . . both Hungarians living in Hungary and Hungarians living in Subcarpathian Ukraine”; “Hungary cannot accept the annulment of the language law”; “Russia and the European Union must negotiate”; and finally “I am going to support the position in Brussels that the European Union must make an immediate response to Russian military movements.”

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Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland.

The leaders of other EU member states located in eastern Europe made the following initial statements regarding  Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Note that in 1994 the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and Ukraine signed a diplomatic memorandum in Budapest in which Ukraine agreed to transfer all Soviet-era nuclear weapons located on its territory to Russia in exchange for the guarantee of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland said on February 27 (source in English): 

We need international pressure on those who would like to break the principle of non-interference and respect for territorial integrity of Ukraine . . . It is clear that our expectations are becoming reality, namely that Crimea and Ukraine’s territorial integrity are becoming crucial issues . . . Russia’s approach to this key challenge of preserving Ukraine’s integrity will be the test of Russia’s true intentions towards Ukraine’s future.

Prime Minister Tusk said on March 2 (source in English): 

Ukrainians have to find out today that they have real friends . . . Europe must send a clear signal that it will not tolerate any acts of aggression or intervention. . . . Therefore I will call on my European partners to exert pressure to  preserve peace on Russia, not on Ukraine. It is Russia that seems interested in an unstable situation in that part of the world.

Prime Minister Tusk also said on March 2 (source in English): 

We should be able to stop Russia in its aggressive moves precisely in order to avoid a conflict. . . . History showsalthough I don’t want to use too many historical comparisons—that those who appease all the time in order to preserve peace usually only buy a little bit of time.

President Miloš Zeman of Czech Republic said on March 1 (source in English): 

Although I fully understand the interests of the majority Russian-speaking population in the Crimea that was incorporated into Ukraine by an absurd decision made by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, we have our experiences with the 1968 military intervention . . . I believe that any military intervention creates a deep ditch that cannot be filled during a generation.

Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia said on March 1 (source in English): 

We call on all sides for maximum restraint, and for a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis.

President Traian Băsescu of Romania said on February 28 (source in English): 

As Romania has repeatedly said, Ukraine’s statehood, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity are values in keeping with the public international law that must be observed by all states which recognized Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the more so the signatories of the 1994 agreement in Budapest.

President Băsescu said on March 2 (source in English): 

Romania considers that any presence of the Russian Federation’s troops on Ukraine’s territory, without its consent and violating the existing bilateral agreements and subsequent notifications, is an aggression against Ukraine. At this moment, we consider that Ukraine is being assaulted by the military forces of the Russian Federation. Romania considers that the signatory states to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum have the obligation to immediately start negotiations to restore international legality, including the Russian Federation ceasing any moves on Ukraine’s territory. This agreement between the U.S., Great Britain and the Russian Federation represents, in our view, alongside the relevant international legislation, the guarantee for Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.

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Orbán and Putin seal the Paks Nuclear Power Plant deal at the Russian president's residence near Moscow on January 14, 2014.

Orbán and Putin seal the Paks Nuclear Power Plant deal at the Russian president’s residence near Moscow.

The responses of these eastern European heads of state and government to Russia’s military intervention in Crimea are founded to a significant degree upon both common and specific historical experience and current geo-political and strategic considerations that place them in fundamental opposition to Russian expansionism in Europe: all five countries—Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania—are member states of an alliance, the European Union, that has come into growing friction with an increasingly assertive Russia; the Soviet Union occupied the eastern parts of Poland and Romania (Bessarabia) at the beginning of the Second World War pursuant to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; the Soviet Union occupied all five countries for decades following the Second World War and imposed the communist political-system upon them; the Soviet Union furthermore invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia (the Czech Republic and Slovakia) in 1968 to suppress anti-Stalinist revolutions in those countries; and there is growing tension between Romania and Russia with regard to political influence over the Republic of Moldavia, the population of which is 70-percent Romanian-speaking and 10-percent Russian-speaking.  

The above factors compelled Donald Tusk of Poland and Traian Băsescu of Romania to vociferously condemn the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and Miloš Zeman of the traditionally more Russophile Czech Republic to issue a qualified condemnation of the incursion. Aside from Prime Minister Orbán, only manifestly pro-Russian Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia did not express disapproval of Russia’s intervention in Crimea.
Prime Minister Orbán’s failure to condemn Russia’s military incursion in Ukraine is based on three factors that have superseded his formerly outspoken opposition to Russian expansionism: rejection of the new Ukrainian government’s annulment of the 2012 language law authorizing the use of minority languages, including Hungarian, in schools, courts and other government institutions in Ukraine; aversion toward the liberal democracy and free-market capitalism of the European Union and sympathy toward the authoritarianism and centrally guided capitalism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia; and the condition of economic and political subservience that Hungary assumed toward Russia when the Orbán government concluded an interstate agreement in January 2014 to have Russian state-owned nuclear-energy company Rosatom build two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant with a 10-billion-euro loan from the state of Russia (see Deal of the Century).

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