Polish president slams Orban over Ukraine

Polish president slams Orban over Ukraine
President Andrzej Duda's comments could point to a growing rift between Warsaw and Budapest, so far strong allies in their resistance to what they see as EU interference in their countries.
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw March 28, 2022

Polish President Andrzej Duda criticised the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for his pro-Russia policy in an interview aired on March 26 shortly after the end of the visit by US President Joe Biden to Poland.

The snub came as the European Union leaders are struggling to agree on further, harsher, sanctions on Russia for its attack on Ukraine, now in its fifth week. The main flashpoint remains energy, with Hungary one of the countries opposing a swift cut-off of Russian energy imports. Poland declares it is ready to do so.

“In the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine, in the face of the death of thousands of people in Ukraine … in the face of the bombing of housing estates …and criminal activities in the sense of international law, I find [Hungary’s] attitude difficult to understand,” Duda told the US-owned broadcaster TVN24 in a 30-minute long interview.

“I find it difficult to understand also because this policy will turn out costly for Hungary. Very costly,” Duda said.

One of the costs might be an opening of a huge rift between Warsaw and Budapest, so far strong allies in their quest against what they describe as the EU’s usurping too much power over member states. Both Poland and Hungary are closely watched by Brussels for cracking down on civil liberties and rule of law. But while the war in Ukraine has made Poland turn to the EU for closer cooperation, Hungary has been isolated.

The Czech Republic has also distanced himself from Orban. Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová has said she will not travel to the meeting of defence ministers of the Visegrad Group (V4) in Hungary this week, which she said was just part of the Hungarian election campaign.  In comments on Twitter on Friday, Černochová wrote: "I have always supported the V4 and I am very sorry that cheap Russian oil is now more important to Hungarian politicians than Ukrainian blood."  

Hungary, alongside Germany, is the EU member state most adamantly against using Russia’s energy exports to the bloc as a decisive weapon to damage the Russian economy and finances.

Russia is Hungary’s key supplier of gas, while the Russian nuclear power agency Rosatom is behind the multi-billion dollar deal to expand Hungary’s Paks power plant. 

Cheap energy helped Orban win the 2014 and 2018 elections. The PM is now looking to secure a third term in office in the vote this week on April 3.

Duda acknowledged the factual basis of Hungary’s dependence on Russia for energy. 

“Orban is in a difficult situation,” Duda said. “It wasn’t him who made Hungary nearly totally dependent on Russia.”

But the Polish president swiped at Orban for his blocking of arms supplies to Ukraine or not supplying anything directly – which some other countries relying on Russian energy imports, like Germany, have done.

Orban has said a number of times that agreeing to sanction Russian energy imports and allowing arms shipments to Ukraine is against Hungary’s interests.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Orban directly in his recent speech to the EU leaders to pick sides.

“You hesitate whether to impose sanctions or not? And you hesitate whether to let weapons through or not? And you hesitate whether to trade with Russia or not? It’s time to decide already,” Zelensky said.