Hungarian Orban sticks to Russian ties with new ministerial choices

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban celebrates on stage with members of the Fidesz party at their electoral base, the “Balna” building on the Danube bank in Budapest, on April 3, 2022. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban appeared to quash the prospect of walking away from Moscow after his landslide election victory last month by appointing two allies with ties to Russia to the top posts in his next government.

Orban, who had close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin before attacking Ukraine, reappointed Peter Szijjarto as foreign minister and appointed entrepreneur Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky as defense minister, the government announced on Facebook on Friday.

Szijjarto, a confidante of Orban, received the Order of Friendship award in Moscow last year from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is now under European Union sanctions . Szalay-Bobrovniczky has a stake in a joint venture with Russia’s largest wagon producer in a town north of Budapest.

With Orban’s government refusing to help Western efforts to arm kyiv’s troops and blocking EU proposals to ban Russian oil, the selections effectively end speculation that he would follow his fourth consecutive election victory in away from Moscow.

“The new composition of the cabinet shows that the Russian thread will become even stronger for Orban,” said Daniel Hegedus, a member of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

Orban will be sworn in on Monday, while the rest of his cabinet is expected to get parliamentary approval in the coming weeks.

Its current clashes with the EU over Ukraine follow years of run-ins with the rule of law, with the bloc accusing it of undermining its democratic values. kyiv has also harshly criticized Orban, who has struck energy deals with Russia, including for natural gas contracts and the expansion of a nuclear power plant.

Yet while the Hungarian leader has angered his EU and NATO partners over his relationship with Moscow, he has marked his tenure as the current EU’s longest-serving head of government with acts pragmatism and keeping options open.

In this vein, he chose Tibor Navracsics, former European commissioner and critic of Orban’s eastern drift, as minister in charge of European funds. Its role could be to convince the European Commission to release billions of euros in aid blocked for corruption and rule of law reasons.

“Navracsics’ selection is something of a gesture and suggests that Orban’s peacock dance between east and west is about to continue,” Hegedus said.

Other appointments confirm Orban remains loyal to a proven team that has helped him consolidate his power over Hungary’s courts, media, education and culture on a scale not seen since his return to power in 2010.

His chief of staff, Antal Rogan, will head the national security service, while Marton Nagy, former vice-governor of the central bank and economic adviser to Orban, will become minister in charge of economic development. Mihaly Varga will remain finance minister.

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