Happy Putin

Why is Orbán visiting Putin right now?

On February 1st Orbán is due to meet with Putin in Moscow.

It is easy to lose count of how many times Putin and Orbán met. Putin appears to be the only foreign dignitary who is immune to the infamous Orbán-curse: meet him and lose power unexpectedly. This time, however, meeting Putin is of extraordinarily poor taste from Orbán – putting into question (once again) whether their alliance is really wholly mutually voluntary.

Orbán’s foreign minister said that he will negotiate for more gas to come from Russia to Hungary through the southern route – but they didn’t elaborate what he was planning to give in return.

Directly before meeting Putin Orbán will meet Santiago Abascal of Spain’s VOX in Madrid and former president Nicholas Sarkozy in Paris. Later in February he will receive Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in Budapest.

The Hungarian opposition has already called for cancelling the Moscow meeting in the midst of the most heated standoff between Russia and the NATO in this century. But that will be obviously ignored. It just shows that the opposition started to have a voice and to exist on the Hungarian political map. Orbán reacted like every abuser does: accusing them with whatever he himself is doing. In this case, putting their personal interests ahead of the nation’s.

The opposition also announced that they will submit a proposal to change Orbán’s constitution because it currently allows the country to leave the EU and NATO without a referendum. That proposal, too, will be shrugged off. (But if their signal that Orbán might want to leave the EU would find its way to the public, it would seriously damage Orbán’s election chances because the EU is way more popular than he is.)

Now even the European Parliament reminded Orbán that he is not supposed to represent different values that that of Hungary’s allies. Sure, others from Europe (notably Emmanuel Macron) are also talking to Putin – but not with the intention of dividing Europe.

Whatever Putin is planning against the NATO and Europe he has to do it before the heating season is over. Winter is the natural lobby tool of Russia towards the gas-addicted EU so a February meeting carries the possibility that Orbán will be in Moscow when it happens. On his own business, not as a member of the EU or NATO. And that is more than just poor optics. It is a huge signal from Putin who loves symbolism. (Symbolic gestures being the refuge of those who are not good at reality and have a notoriously external locus of identity and sense of success.)

Maybe the whole sabre rattling is just a bargaining chip to let Nord Stream 2 happen. Or maybe worse. Putin is now acting like every late-stage strongman, focused on carving his little name into history. Either he is ageing or he knows something we don’t about his expected longevity. Either way, he looks like he has nothing to lose. His country does, his people do – but the definition of autocracies is that it doesn’t matter. The divergence between the interest of the leader and that of the citizens is final, albeit ignored.

As for Europe this winter will be another lesson that appeasing a bully never, ever works.

Why other people’s autocrat is still your problem

Strongmen Stop When There Is Pushback

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