On Feb. 1, the European Union unanimously approved a four-year, €50 billion ($54 billion) financial-support package to Ukraine after the sole holdout, Viktor Orbán, finally dropped his veto. The Hungarian premier had been blocking the deal for months. His government has been the only one in the European Union to systematically oppose the bloc’s military-victory-at-all-costs approach to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, urging a diplomatic solution and maintaining cordial relations with the Kremlin. Hungary has also refused to stop importing Russian oil and gas, highlighting the self-defeating nature of the EU sanctions regime. “Russia’s economy is not on its knees,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said last year. “So if you look at it in a practical way, not in an ideological way, what was the impact of sanctions, you see they are more harmful to Europe than Russia.”
So what led Budapest to finally greenlight the latest Ukraine package?
Ukraine is just one of many issues over which Hungary and the Brussels mandarins have been at loggerheads for years. Many of these revolve around Hungary’s alleged failure to uphold the rule of law, as defined by Brussels, on issues such as judicial independence and LGBT rights—in response to which the European Union has frozen around €20 billion of funds slated for Hungary. Budapest has long contended that such pressure tactics amount to little more than political blackmail—and are intended to obtain compliance from member states on issues that go well beyond the bloc’s officially stated aims.
Hungary’s suspicions were validated when the Financial Times reported on a confidential plan drawn up in Brussels to “sabotage Hungary’s economy” if Orbán remained intransigent. The strategy allegedly involved “publicly vow[ing] to permanently shut off all EU funding to Budapest with the intention of spooking the markets, precipitating a run on the country’s forint currency and a surge in the cost of its borrowing.” The European Union was forced to deny that the “background note” was official policy, although it admitted that it was written by someone working for the Secretariat of the European Council.