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Paul Ronzheimer is the deputy editor-in-chief of BILD and a senior journalist writing for Axel Springer, the parent company of POLITICO.
BUDAPEST – Vladimir Putin’s handling of a mercenary mutiny shows that the Russian president is firmly in control, Viktor Orbán said in an interview – putting the Hungarian leader, once again, at odds with his Western partners.
« When it’s handled in 24 hours, it’s a signal of strength, » Orbán said Axel Springerparent company of POLITICO.
Referring to the recent rebellion by the Wagner paramilitary group, which brought troops and armored vehicles dangerously close to Moscow, the Hungarian prime minister said he « sees no major significance in that event », separating him from numerous Western officials who, while remaining cautious , they said the uprising exposed Putin’s weaknesses.
« Putin is the president of Russia, » said Orbán, who has cultivated a close personal relationship with Putin. « So if anyone speculates that he might go bankrupt or be replaced, [they] I don’t understand the Russian people and the Russian power structures. »
The failed Wagner rebellion last weekend, which brought Russia to the brink of civil war, led to growing questions in Western countries about how much damage had been done to Putin’s regime.
The uprising ended with an agreement reached between the Kremlin, Wagner and Belarus in which anyone who took part in the coup attempt could escape prosecution and Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin could go into exile in Belarus.
But for Orbán, Putin’s rule remains intact despite the mutiny, which has posed perhaps the greatest challenge to his 23-year rule.
« Russia operates differently from us, » the Hungarian prime minister said. “But the structures in Russia are very stable. It’s based on the army, the secret services, the police. … It is a military-oriented mentality country.
He added: “They are not a country like us Germany or Hungary. It’s a different world. The structure is different, the power is different, the stability is different”.
The rhetoric is commensurate with the Hungarian leader’s handling of Russia since the start of the war. He has been slow to condemn Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has since maintained a pro-Russian stance in the conflict, an approach that both serves Orbán’s internal political purposes and helps preserve a long-term relationship with the Kremlin.
Ukraine cannot win
In the interview, Orbán reiterated his argument that it will be « impossible » for Ukraine to win a war against Russia.
For several months, the Hungarian leader has essentially argued that Ukraine should stop trying to reclaim Russian-occupied territory and seek a negotiated settlement, a stance that has left him mostly isolated within the Western alliance.
« Ukraine is no longer a sovereign country, » the prime minister said. “They have no money. They have no weapons. They can fight only because we support them, I mean the West.
Echoing some of his earlier statements, Orbán said « the time » is « on the Russian side, not the Ukrainian side » – adding that Kiev’s main European partners, Germany and France, are unable to broker a deal of peace.
The « only way » to end the war, Orbán said, is « negotiations between the Russians and the Americans and guaranteed peace for Europe ».
The EU asylum package is a ‘pull factor’
Orbán has also hounded his EU counterparts on another issue where he is largely isolated: migration.
EU countries recently reached an agreement, despite Hungarian objections, to overhaul the way migrants are treated and relocated within the bloc. Orbán predictably railed against the deal, which includes a measure that allows countries to take in people or pay 20,000 euros for every migrant they don’t take in. EU leaders are ready to do it address the issue later this week at a summit in Brussels.
The right-wing leader argued that these new rules to share the burden between EU countries will create an incentive for migrants to undertake dangerous journeys to Europe. And he has promised Hungary will refuse to pay the tax for not taking in the relocated migrants, insisting his country is already spending taxpayers’ money to « defend Europe’s borders ».
The stance portends another looming battle between Brussels and Budapest over migration. More recently, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Hungary violated EU law with its policy of forcing some asylum seekers to lodge their applications in foreign countries.