Hungary is prepared to meet Moscow’s demands for Russian gas to be paid for in roubles, Viktor Orban has said in a challenge to the EU’s rejection of Vladimir Putin’s attempts to shift the terms of energy contracts.
The Hungarian prime minister, who won a fourth consecutive term in office in Sunday’s landslide election victory, told a press briefing in Budapest that he was reassessing his close ties to Moscow and said he was currently an “adversary” of Russia.
But he added that there would be no problem if Moscow followed through on its threat to cut off gas sales unless they are paid for in roubles. The demand is part of an attempt by Russia to hit back at western sanctions and prop up its currency.
“It causes us no problem . . . so if the Russians request it, we will pay in roubles,” Orban said, without detailing how Hungary planned to execute such payments.
Orban has been one of Russia’s closest EU allies and his stance is markedly different from other European importers of Russian gas, notably Germany, which said it would prepare for supply interruptions and might have to ration gas if Moscow shut off or delayed shipments. Orban said endangering gas supplies from Russia was out of the question for Hungary.
His comments came as EU diplomats met yesterday to sign off on a fresh round of sanctions after reports of atrocities amounting to war crimes by Russian troops retreating from close to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
Orban has come under increasing pressure to distance himself from Russia, with his EU and Nato allies calling his attempt to stay neutral on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — and his growing hostility to Ukraine’s leadership — untenable.
He has engaged in a war of words with Volodymyr Zelensky, even accusing the Ukrainian president of interfering in Hungary’s election campaign.
Putin was one of the first leaders to congratulate Orban after Sunday’s win and Orban said he had a long phone call with the Russian president on Wednesday, when he asked him to “announce a ceasefire immediately”. He added that he had invited Putin for ceasefire talks in Budapest alongside Zelensky, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“The answer was positive but the Russian president said he had conditions, which only he and the Ukrainian president could agree on,” said Orban, noting that Macron and Scholz had not been consulted on the offer.
He added that all war crime allegations had to be investigated but admitted Russia had been guilty of aggression. “This is a war, which the Russians started, attacking Ukraine,” he said.
Hungary, a Nato and EU member, and Russia were “adversaries at the moment. They told me as much, calling [the relationship] unfriendly . . . They know that. They won’t ask me anything, they will accept we are adversaries right now,” said Orban.
He added that Poland, Hungary’s closest ally within Europe, disagreed with Budapest over foreign policy, but it was a “strategic priority to co-operate with Poland” on European issues. The two countries have often held a common line to back each other against any EU penalties for a perceived erosion of the rule of law, but Warsaw has cooled towards Budapest because of Orban’s stance over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The European Commission said this week it would start a new procedure against Hungary that could ultimately stop EU funds from flowing to the country.