US to step up pressure on Orban government, may levy sanctions against Hungarian citizens, press report

US to step up pressure on Orban government, may levy sanctions against Hungarian citizens, press report
US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman watching football in Felcsut, the home village of PM Viktor Orban. (source: US embassy in Hungary) / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 11, 2023

Washington is expected to step up pressure on the Orban government to change course on its pro-Russian stance and hostility toward the US and may be considering slapping influential Hungarian individuals with sanctions, according to, which cited several independent diplomatic sources from Western allies. In related news, US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman has convened a press conference for Wednesday, 12 April.

The Obama administration in October 2014 banned six Hungarians from entering the US to exert pressure on Budapest to reverse policies that threatened to undermine democratic values. Of the six persons involved, only the former chief of the tax authority, Ildiko Vida, acknowledged having been on the list.

Relations between Hungary and the US are at an all-time low. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has openly called the Biden administration an adversary at a February closed caucus meeting. The Hungarian prime minister has labelled pro-war international interest groups in Washington "bureaucrats in Brussels", leading Hungarian opposition politicians and international speculators the same. The leaked Pentagon documents, produced by the CIA, also referred to Orban's comments, although this was open-source information.

A month ago US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior White House officials to discuss the anti-American rhetoric from senior Hungarian officials and pervasive anti-American rhetoric in the media controlled by the government.

Many pundits saw the unprecedented meeting in Washington as a sign that the US is ready to step up pressure on Budapest if the Hungary government remains unwilling to change course.

The Hungarian government’s reluctance to ratify the Nato accessions of Finland and Sweden has probably been the last straw, according to, which says that there are regular talks between the two sides, but the White House seems to find it increasingly difficult to accept the Orban government's stance in the war.

Hungary has threatened to veto financial aid to Ukraine, has refused to send weapons and tried a meeting of the Nato-Ukraine Commission meeting at ministerial level. Orban has repeatedly spoken of external pressure that wants "Hungary to get dragged into the war" and repeated what many associate with spreading the Russian narrative, that sending weapons to Ukraine could lead to the escalation of the crisis. Hungary’s illiberal leader and its media have warned of the potential of a World War III unfolding, blaming Western allies, while keeping criticism of Russia low-key.

While Viktor Orban approved sanctions against Russia, in Washington there is a growing sense that the government is playing with fire, according to one Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

Budapest is also under pressure to wean itself off Russian energy supplies. Such calls in the past have been rebuked by the government as interfering in issues pertaining to national sovereignty.

Pressman, a gay human rights lawyer, has found himself on hostile ground since he took his credence in September 2022. At one of the first public appearances, he said: "These are complicated times, and in complicated times it is more important than ever for friends to pull each other closer. The United States is a friend of Hungary and of the Hungarian people."

As time passed, the diplomat mounted an open and veiled criticism of the Hungarian government.

In February, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto lashed out at the diplomat for saying that the Hungarian government should direct its call for peace and a ceasefire to Vladimir Putin personally. 

The ambassador has no business interfering in Hungary's domestic affairs, Szijjarto struck back in an angry statement.

Pressman has also criticised the pro-government press for spreading Russian state propaganda. He angered high-level government officials when the US embassy published a quiz on its website, which let readers choose whether certain quotes came from House Speaker Laszlo Kover or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the end of November, Pressman dropped by Felcsut to see a football match of the local team, Orban’s favourite, which many had viewed as an open signal for a future meeting with the prime minister. Late last year, Pressman met with a number of Hungarian ministers, including Justice Minister Judit Varga, Peter Szijjarto and Andras Zs Varga, the president of the Kuria, Hungary's supreme court, but not with the prime minister.

Orban also made fun of the US diplomat’s name in his annual state of the nation address and finished his remark with a pun, saying that he hoped that the next ambassador would not be called Puccini (The Hungarian word for coup is puccs).

Before Easter, Pressman told leftist daily Nepszava that the Biden administration views the smear campaign against him as attacks against the US government, as media outlets close to Orban are seen as mouthpieces of the government.