There are only two kinds of reactions to this theory: 1) those who can imagine Orbán planning to get a piece of Ukraine and 2) those who say he better be.
Before the 2018 elections every Hungarian would have told you that the counting of the ballots will be clean – they have cheated so much elsewhere that they don’t need to resort to such blunt tools. After the election day they no longer say that. Now everyone can imagine that it happened – and that it will happen again.
When a popular opposition influencer died in January a lot of people started wondering if it was a political assassination, Putin-style. After all, the guy was more popular than all of Orbán’s pumped-up “influencers” combined and he was openly angry at the government for its homophobic laws and propaganda. He also regularly reminded his audience about the unacceptable things that the almighty justice minister and the future president said and did. His disappearance when the justice minister was deep in the Pegasus scandal and before the new president was installed was most convenient. It was also a relief for Orbán’s own, incompetent influencer army as well, failing to attract attention despite the billions spent on them on social media. This, too, would be a logical step in the progression towards Putinism.
These are both speculations. The real news is that people could no longer shrug off the possibility of a significant electoral fraud or a political assassination.
Something similar is happening again.
Someone put forth a theory that Putin offered Orbán a piece of Ukraine and there were only two kinds of reactions: 1) those who can imagine Orbán planning to get a piece of Ukraine and 2) those who say he better be.
Maybe our conviction that a border revision can not happen again made us blind to the possibility that it was what motivated Orbán all this time. First, a Slovakian journalist posted the theory – shortly before the war – that Orbán and Putin may want a border revision. Then a Polish politician posted a conspiracy theory that claims so.
The former Polish deputy PM, Roman Giertych, shared a conspiracy theory on Facebook about Orbán and his Polish counterpart having been enticed by Putin with the promise of getting a piece of Ukraine each – once Russia had occupied it. According to Giertych, Orbán talked trash about Ukraine to him as early as in 2011 and allegedly also convinced Kaczynski about the need to destroy the EU. (According to Giertych, Putin knew that he had no army to occupy the whole of Ukraine but he could count on Orbán and Kaczynski to take care of the western parts of it that they would love for historic reasons.)*
After all, Giertych says, it is impossible to explain Poland’s recent confrontation with the EU and the US by any other reasons – unless they were expecting the complete geopolitical rebuilding of the world, with the new Soviet Union ruling the east.
Belarus may also get a piece according to Giertych, that would explain Orbán’s distasteful visits to Minsk. Maybe Orbán was Putin’s emissary in this matter. And the theory claims that Poland’s recent confrontation with the US over TVN was also a signal of readiness to Putin.
According to this theory the plan was discussed during the countless meetings between the right-wing populists of Europe (Putinists and Poland) and the Biden-administration was aware of it. Orbán met these nationalists ever more often as the war was approaching and then he went to Moscow, risking that Putin will use him to announce the war standing next to him. (If it didn’t happen it could have been due to Xi’s request to wait until the Olympics are over.)
He says that Poland knew about the war from the US (Orbán may not), so it is difficult to explain why they kept mingling with Orbán who was a knows Putin vassal.
But then the plan misfired when Ukraine resisted and the world united against Russia.**
He calls his theory the “Orbán plan”. It would also fit because it aligns with what we know about Orbán, being cursed with a delusion of grandeur, feeling that he is bigger than just a little eastern European country and craving for more power and recognition.
It may all have been offered to him by Putin when he was made to visit Moscow in 2014, out of the blue, and made to sign catastrophically one-sided deal about the Russian nuclear power station in Hungary. He was emasculated by Putin – but he may also have been offered the dubious carrot of being one of the power brokers of the world, playing in the big league, rubbing shoulders at the grownup table of world powers. We know he wants it.
And of course the carrot of a border revision. The very thing that made Hungary enter WW2 on Hitler’s side the last time it came up, was that Hitler offered Hungary pieces of the neighboring countries that were separated by the borders drawn in Versailles at the end of WW1.
Now Orbán’s motivations may be explained by this theory – but it feels wonky on the Polish side. Admittedly, Giertych is a better expert of Polish politics than I am and if Kaczinsky is anti-West then what is he for? But the theory is fuzzy on one other point: Why did the European populist alliance fail to create the Nationalist Internationale (repeatedly) if not due to the anti-Russian sentiment of the Polish government?
Truth be told I have heard mentions of Ukraine in seemingly unrelated contexts often in the last couple of years, but I put it down to my general disinterest in the matter that I didn’t understand how it even came up.
The last time I saw it was after the war broke out and a deeply nationalist Facebook group has been discussing the possible border changes that would be “best for our interests” (they took the map from the propaganda group called “The power of Russia”). They gave bits of Ukraine to Poland, Moldova, Hungary – and of course Russia. I blamed the way we teach history to students for the disgusting conversation. If borders weren’t presented as the ultimate point of history these people would probably manage to stay in their own, individual points of view, at least some of the time, and judge the wars that lead to border changes a lot more realistically.
But now that this crazy theory was put out in the public Hungarian journalists have also collected a few speeches and odd remarks that may prove that Ukraine has been on Orbán’s mind – and not just because of Trump’s ill-conceived attempts to get dirt on his opponents from president Zelensky.
- When Orbán finally managed to meet Trump he allegedly spent the precious little time he got with him inciting the president against Ukraine. Whether it was premeditated, on Putin’s order, or just by accident because Ukraine happened to be on his mind when they met we can only guess. US officials were fuming that Greater Hungary appears to be on Orbán’s mind and even we thought their accusations are far off. Greater Hungary is the wet dream of the extreme right and even if Orbán is now the extreme right in Hungary, we somehow didn’t assume that this, too, is on his agenda now. We put it down to Americans’ superficiality about all things distant.
- In 2014, when Putin occupied Crimea, the vice president of the Russian Duma wrote a letter to the Polish, Hungarian and Romanian governments allegedly to propose the break up of Ukraine. It became news in Poland but he later denied it.
- In May 2014, after winning the reelection Orbán dedicated a big part of his speech to Ukraine and the Hungarian minority there, demanding autonomy. (He then sent hundreds of thousands of Hungarian passports to them and their votes (sent by unsupervised mail though local Fidesz offices) were crucial in the 2018 election victory for Orbán.)
- Donald Tusk reacted to this speech with more force than expected from a foreign dignitary about such a speech. He may have not been tempted by a piece of Ukraine himself as the conspiracy theory above alleges, but he was definitely touchy about Orbán’s remarks, right when Ukraine was taken apart. He repeated his scolding a few days later in Bratislava.
- Even the Americans were fuming about the speech. In October 2014 the deputy ambassador to Budapest reminded – seemingly out of the blue – that talk about autonomy is not appropriate in these times. Surely, neither Tusk nor Goodfriend was really so upset about “autonomy”. The former Hungarian ambassador to Washington later confirmed that Americans disapprove of the hopes to chop up Ukraine and that Hungary hopes to get a piece from the events.
- Also in autumn 2014 Radislaw Sikorski former Polish foreign minister alleged that Putin offered Lviv to Poland as early as 2008. Moscow denied it as usual but given what happened since it seems less and less outlandish.
- Also in 2014, when Orbán declared his plan to build an illiberal state (he did not say illiberal democracy – only “state” or “nation“) he also talked about times changing and that Hungary may end up benefiting from it. That chaos may frighten others but we have to be brave and get on top of it. He said these things in Romania, by the way.
- As far as bravery in concerned, Orbán is now giving the least brave performance of all, pretending that Hungary is a neutral country and the “we must stay out of this”. He is creating a country of cowards – again something he knows how to do as he is riding the coattails of the communists who broke the backbone of this country after 1956.
- Finally, this theory would also give an explanation to the low-burning but worrisome mystery of why Orbán spends so much time with the military since early 2019?
* Based on Facebook’s translating feature Giertych wrote: “Once Putin tried to negotiate the matter by offering a jokingly Western Ukraine to Poland. Tusk and Sikorski refused to even joke about it. Meanwhile, the problem of Western Ukraine was the most important in Putin’s (wrongly) mind. Russia didn’t have hundreds of thousands of soldiers for the complete occupation of Ukraine. Putin expected a quick military coup of Kyiv and the southern country, but the occupation of western Ukraine, which has no Russian-speaking population, was never possible. From here on, in the plans to destroy the Ukrainian state, Putin assumed that it was best to give Western Ukraine under the patronage of Poland…” In this, he says, Putin miscalculated because he didn’t expect resistance from either Ukraine or from the west.
** “PiS suddenly abandoned Orban, Le Pen and Salvini and started playing the main defender of Ukraine. The trip of Morawiecki and Kaczynski, as well as … the Prime Minister of Slovenia to Kyiv, was supposed to cover their participation in this plan. In the same way, he tried to hide his participation in cooperation with Putin, Salvini, suddenly coming to Przemyśl. All of a sudden became friends of Ukraine.”
“How do I know all this? Because what’s the point of hitting US investment when it’s already known about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine…?”
“What’s the point of totally disrespecting the EU and laughing at TSUE’s sentences, if not that it’s known about a total geopolitical change that will come soon? What is the point of meeting Le Pen, funded by Russia, when it is already known there will be an invasion of Ukraine? Why invite Salvini, who was wearing a Putin shirt if he wants to fight Putin. Why meet with Orban, who is in Moscow every month, if not to agree on plans? If you know about the invasion and want to be on the West side, you should avoid Orban – Putin’s friend, like a fire. Why meet in Madrid with all Putin’s allies if you want to stand on the opposite side in a war that is known to explode soon?”
“The conclusion is one: they were preparing for the betrayal of the century. And only the victory of Ukraine, the outrage of the Western public opinion and the scale of this outrage related to the heroic resistance and the unification of the entire West prevented this betrayal.”