Prime minister Viktor Orbán – Photo: PMO

Orbán: We dug a hole for the Russians, but ended up falling into it ourselves

Hungary is able to secure gas supplies for itself, "unlike the westerners", Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told Kossuth Radio on Friday. "We're more adept at getting gas on our own than if we were to wait for others," the prime minister said in an interview, explaining why Hungary was opting out of joint European Union purchases of gas. Hungary would only lose out on such a programme, so it supports voluntary participation, he added.

Orbán also criticised the EU’s solidarity mechanism aimed at avoiding sharp disparities of gas supply across the bloc. Hungary rejects the idea of a mandatory mechanism as this would mean that after securing enough gas to cover its annual consumption, the country would have to turn over its supplies to countries that do not have enough gas owing to the sanctions imposed on Russia.

There is a “temporary lull” in the growth of gas prices, after European reserves have been refilled over the summer, Orbán said. Prices are expected to grow again as EU countries start to use their reserves in the winter, he said.

Hungary has concluded long-term contracts with Russia to ensure gas supplies, he said. Although the NordStream pipeline “was ruined by terrorist attacks”, the pipeline arriving in Europe via Turkey is still intact, “and Hungary won’t allow anyone to ruin this pipeline.”

The price of Russian gas is tied to European stock exchange prices, and so high European prices drive price growth in Hungary, he said.

Orbán slammed the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, saying that Europe was paying a “sanctions surcharge” for energy.

Hungary is “mostly successful” in avoiding the consequences of those bad decisions, he said, “but we are on the same market as all other European countries, and Hungary suffers to some degree from the deteriorating situation there. That is why we are against the sanctions,” he said.

Sanctions were originally introduced as a tool to end the war swiftly and to punish Russia for launching the war, he said. “We made a plan and dug a hole for the Russians, but ended up falling into it ourselves,” he said. “The EU is now proposing to dig further, while Hungary is saying we should try to get out.” Those two stances clash at every EU summit, he added.

The prime minister said the latest National Consultation public survey on sanctions imposed in response to the Russia-Ukraine war “is important to help everyone realise we are all in danger”.

Meanwhile, Orbán said the government is working to push inflation into single digits by the end of 2023, he said, adding that high prices were driven largely by sanctions imposed in response to the Russia-Ukraine war.

This is why, he added, the government is planning to introduce further price caps in the coming weeks.

Among anticipated the measures, interest on business loans will be capped at 7.7-8 percent, the prime minister said, adding that banks will have to absorb the related costs.

Interfering with a complex economic system “is never good” but necessary to handle certain types of crisis, Orbán said.

Concerning the war, the prime minister said he expects calls in the European Union for a ceasefire and peace talks to grow. “Hungary is inhabited by sober-minded people,” he said, adding that this was what Hungarians had been calling for from the start.

Orbán said tensions at last week’s EU summit had run high, and the demand for peace was growing in all countries. “Common sense will prevail sooner or later,” he said.

Orbán said wars could end only with an agreement between the warring parties. “Taking the war to its conclusion would prolong it for years to come,” he said.

The prime minister said the “pro-war West” would have to foot the bill for rebuilding Ukraine and running the country. “The talk is of unimaginably large numbers,” Orbán added. “Even before the war, Ukraine couldn’t make enough money to fund the cost of living of the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Orbán said Ukraine would need around 5 billion euros a month to avoid a collapse, adding that the question was who would give them this money. Talks are ongoing about how the burden should be shared by Europe and the United States, he said. The discussions are also focused on how the burdens should be distributed among EU member states if Europe contributes to aiding Ukraine and whether even everyone wants to contribute, he added.

Hungary will have to decide whether to participate in that process, Orbán said. Hungary is facing difficult decisions, including “whether we have money to give to the Ukrainians, and in what form we should give it: together with the others, separately, as a donation or a loan”, he said. This will only become clear over the next two to three months of EU talks, he added.

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