Hungary backtracks from ban on Nato troop deployment and transit of weapons

Hungary backtracks from ban on Nato troop deployment and transit of weapons
Prime Minister Viktor Orban continues to play his double game by publicising only the ban on direct arms shipments to Ukraine.
By bne IntelliNews March 8, 2022

Hungary will allow Nato troops to deploy in western Hungary and weapons shipments to cross its territory to other Nato member states, according to a government decree published on March 7.

Hungary rejected the deployment of Nato troops earlier last month. The Hungarian army is in the proper shape to guarantee the security of the country, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Euronews on February 10.

After a meeting of the national security operative board on Monday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban posted a short message on Facebook, but did not tell his supporters every aspect of the government decree. He only confirmed that weapons will not be transported to Ukraine from the territory of Hungary. "A decree has been published that makes it clear that no weapons shipments can be transported from the territory of Hungary to the territory of Ukraine", Orban said.

He did not speak of the deployment of Nato troops either.

Opposition parties say Orban is continuing his double game in the conflict.

Feeling the pressure from his allies, he has condemned Russia’s military intervention and stood by Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but unlike his EU or V4 peers, he has not come down hard on the Kremlin. While its V4 partners were calling for more and tougher sanctions, Orban has only grudgingly accepted the EU’s list of sanctions, including cutting off Russia from the SWIFT bank messaging system.

The radical rightwing Our Homeland movement lashed out at the government for backtracking from the ban imposed on lethal weapons to pass through the country after the defence ministry released a photo of Hungarian-flagged cargo being loaded with weapons shipped from the Netherlands to Poland.

Orbán called it worrisome that military action in Ukraine was shifting nearer to Hungary. As a result, the number of refugees is expected to grow, he said. “We must be prepared for having to look after an increasing number of people,” he said, and added that decisions had been made to guarantee smooth cooperation between authorities and civil organisations. Diplomatic measures have been planned for this week because further efforts will be made in the interest of restoring peace.

Visegrad Group prime ministers will meet in London on Tuesday, ahead of a meeting of European Union prime ministers meeting on Thursday and Friday in Paris, Orban said. "We will try to stop the war and open talks that could lead to peace," Orban told local media.

With less than four weeks to go until the elections, Orban is trying to maintain a delicate balancing act so as not be seen as a close ally of Vladimir Putin, but at the same time also not angering his core supporters,  many of whom are critical of Hungary’s transatlantic ties with Nato and the EU and are more pro-Russian.

Hungary’s strongman has boasted of the success of the Hungarian model, referring to its strong ties with Russia while also being a Nato and EU member, during his visit to Moscow on February 1.

The government’s communication narrative has shifted since, and the line is that Hungary needs to remain neutral in the conflict. Orban is portraying himself as the leader who wants Hungary out of the military conflict and provides security, in contrast with the opposition, which according to the pro-government narrative wants to drag the country into war by sending weapons and soldiers to the military zone.

The opposition has denied these claims as lies. Prime ministerial candidate Peter Marki-Zay said that a move to send troops or materiel would only happen if there were a direct request from Nato.