Putin’s visits to Budapest since Orbán came to power in 2010:
Next visit: soon
It all started in January 2014 when Orbán unexpectedly returned (!) from Moscow and announced that we are so lucky: we get a nuclear power plant from our Russian friends. We pay for it, they own the land, they own the plant, they own the electricity it produces – but we are lucky.
Contrary to what simplifying logic would suggest Orbán was no friend of Putin before 2014. In fact, diplomatic ties were tested by symbolic acts like renaming Budapest’s Moscow square and spats regarding world war statues. The Orbán-government was unable to secure a meeting with any level of Russian diplomacy for years.
Then came the Paks 2 mega-investment into a new, Russian nuclear power station that would boil the Danube and generate more electricity that Hungary could consume – so even neighboring countries would have to be convinced to buy some of the excess capacity. Since then, the alarm bells were rung on multiple issues. There is the obvious national security risk of letting Russian engineers and security teams on Hungarian soil (not even security would be supplied by the host country). There are serious financial concerns. The estimated 10, then 12 billion euro cost (for now) of the plant would be loaned by Russia – with the place for interest rates left blank in the contract. The rest of the paperwork is duly made state secret but even the available information was alarming. The location of the new plant is, for example, on a tectonic edge. It wasn’t in the feasibility studies – because there weren’t such studies.
Putin wanted three things out of Hungary: some business with MOL, Hungary’s energy champion, to sell us the power station, and to sell us Russian metro cars for the new metro line. When the first slipped out of their hands, Putin pretty much seemed to have strong-armed Orbán into signing the other two. Ever since then, he can’t stop visiting.
First he came in 2015 – just two weeks after Angela Merkel. It was obvious that he wanted to be received by an EU country right after the war in Ukraine made him an international pariah. Mildly ignoring Orbán and not signing or discussing anything that has to do with Hungary itself, Putin used the visit to caution the world to stick with the cease fire in Ukraine and tell them that after the death of South Stream, he now wants something through Turkey. Then he invited Orbán back to Moscow.
In February 2017 Putin visited Budapest again and they reportedly signed some sort of 5-year plan, discussed terrorism and migration (strictly together). In the meantime, a Czech report clearly identified Hungary as the useful idiot of Russia, spreading any message to make the West infighting and dumb.
The two strongmen are also linked by their belief that sport success is actual success, so the Hungarian water sport championship duly followed the Russian one in Kazan, and we have duly tried to bankrupt ourselves to get the 2024 Olympics.
Today, Putin (and his cloud of ministers and businessmen) visit Budapest on the excuse of the judo championship – and while the press duly reports of Putin’s well-documented love of judo, such coincidences rarely happen. Wonder what he gets out of Hungary this time. If the Russian media is not wrong, he is really just here to jump start the Paks 2 development already.
Despite the 12 billion dollars Russia generously offered to lend Hungary, it will be the deal of the century. Decades of energy dependency, renewed debt, Hungary falling prey to the new, smarter Russian colonialism. Everyone with the slightest sense of realism suspects that Orbán must be personally blackmailed – and that is why he is unwillingly pulling the country into this disadvantageous deal. Not even he believes it is good for us. And that might also be the reason why no one, not even his closest allies in his party knew or even approved of the Paks 2 deal. He went to Moscow and signed it all alone.
And don’t worry. Putin will be back to Hungary within six months to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Debrecen (that he kindly donated to).