BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, seen by some in Brussels and Washington as cozying up to the Kremlin, said his country would not be forced to pick one side or another in a Cold War-style standoff in Europe.
Offering reassurance to critics who say Hungary has drifted into Russia’s orbit, Orban said Hungary was united with the European Union in standing up for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and would be guided by Berlin on how to treat Moscow.
But he made clear in a speech that Hungary would act according to what was in its national interest, even if that meant annoying its allies in the European Union and the United States.
“Our job is to determine our own interests and own position,” Orban told a gathering in Budapest of ethnic Hungarians living abroad.
“I am convinced that putting the question of whose side we should take is a Communist kind of question. The question we should pose is what the Hungarian interest is and not whose side we should take.”
“The Hungarian geopolitical interest is...to strive to prevent a new Cold War over our heads.”
Hungary has signed a 10 billion euro ($12.5 billion) deal with Russia to build a nuclear power plant in Hungary, committed to build the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline despite opposition from Brussels, and stopped shipping gas to Ukraine that was helping Kiev evade a Russian energy blockade.
European diplomats say there is alarm in Brussels, and the United States has signaled its impatience with Orban’s government. It has barred six Hungarian public officials from traveling to the United States, citing corruption allegations.
In his speech, Orban said Hungary opposed any break-up of Ukraine. He said a sovereign Ukraine was important because it acted as a buffer between Hungary and Russia.
Referring to Germany’s foreign policy - which has been toughening towards the Kremlin - Orban said for Budapest it “means a point of reference and ..in some cases a compass as well.”
But in a separate speech on Wednesday, Orban said Hungary would not bow to Western opposition to South Stream, which will deliver Russian gas via the Black Sea to Hungary.
“Hungary being called Russian-friendly, that is silly as Hungary is Hungary-friendly,” Orban said.
“Our allied status with NATO and the EU is clear. But we have to stand up for our economic interests,” he said. “It is not in our interest to see any development in Europe that would cut us off from resources.”
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Angus MacSwan