The West Continues to Devour Its Own

The latest flashpoint between the US/EU and Hungary is that Budapest (along with Athens) is blocking the EU’s 11th sanction package against Russia. Both Hungary and Greece want some or all of their countries’ companies removed from a list of “war sponsors” compiled by Kiev. Such a request has proved controversial with criticism coming from all quarters, exemplified by Germany’s pugnacious foreign minister Annalena Baerbock getting into it with her Hungarian counterpart at a recent Brussels meeting.

Now the EU will tomorrow (June 1) look into stripping Hungary of the rotating EU presidency, which it is set to hold next year. Among other duties, the country that holds the presidency represents EU governments in relations with other international organizations and plans and chairs meetings of EU government ministers and other bodies. Germany cited Hungary’s lack of support for the Ukraine war effort as reason for its doubts.

Long at odds with the EU over a host of issues, Hungary has become even more of an outsider in the bloc for refusing to participate in the magical thinking that dominates the zone with regards to Ukraine.

Last week Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban committed the crime of stating the obvious when he told a crowd in Doha that there is zero chance of a Ukrainian military victory. From Daily News Hungary:

“This war is the failure of diplomacy. It should have never happened,” he said. The main question is not “who invaded whom” but to save the lives that would be lost if the war continues, Orbán said. After a ceasefire is negotiated, the issue of a new “security architecture of the European continent” should also be on the agenda, he said.

Orban is also going as far as questioning the entire purpose of the EU nowadays:

It’s hard to disagree with Orban’s logic. There is also a domestic political angle to Orban and other Hungarian politicians sparring with Brussels and Washington. As we’ve seen in other places like Turkiye, the harder the West pushes, the more their popularity declines in said country.  Support of the EU now stands at just 39 percent (down from 51 percent just last year) in Hungary – one of the lowest levels of member states.  Why is the number of Hungarians who approve of the EU plummeting? According to media in the West, it must be Orban’s fault and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the bloc becoming an insular group run by people increasingly disconnected from reality who insist Hungary do the same. From Bloomberg:

“This is extremely significant and frightening given how quickly attitudes are changing,” said Daniel Hegedus, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “It’s amazing how effective Orbán is in destroying Hungary’s pro-European attitude….

In Brussels, the decline is largely attributed to Orbán’s grip on the media. Indeed, commuters in Budapest are used to seeing political billboards as part of Orbán’s attacks on what he sees as enemies of the state.

But that grip is apparently not so all-encompassing, as Bloomberg mentions the following at the tail end of the article:

While the pro-European campaign is led by ALDE, the umbrella group for liberal parties in the EU, the US is also involved in the counter-offensive. Recent ads funded by the US embassy carry the slogan “Russians go home”, a rallying cry against the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, superimposed on Russia’s current attack on Ukraine.

Because the government controls much of the media in Hungary, the U.S. will continue to reach out directly to Hungarians, an embassy spokesman in Budapest said. Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas said on April 12 that the billboards showed that the US was already waging a direct campaign in Hungary.

According to the recent US intelligence leaks, Orban called the US a “main adversary” in a political strategy session, which the CIA labeled “an escalation of the level of anti-American rhetoric in his discourse.” Meanwhile, the US embassy in Budapest engages in acts like posting the following video quiz, which asks viewers to guess whether statements were made by Orbán and his supporters or Putin:

Elsewhere, the Biden administration excluded Hungary from this year’s and last’s Democracy Summits, and the US sanctioned the Russian-controlled International Investment Bank (IBB) in Budapest in April; Hungary was forced to withdraw one day later. The US is reportedly considering sanctioning individuals close to Orban and the Hungarian government. According to the the Center for European Policy Analysis, the takeaway from the IBB sanctions is that more of the same – trying to bully everyone into submission – is what’s required:

As Daniel Hegedus, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, noted, Hungary’s actions show it responds to pressure, or at least pressure from the US (as EU action appears to have elicited little response.)

More of that pressure continues to build on Budapest to not only get on board with sanctions, but to also cut off its energy links with Russia. Newly-elected Hungarian president Katalin Novák was greeted rudely during her first visit to Poland last year. According to VSQUARE, the meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki more closely resembled an interrogation. More:

The Poles, for example, checked—and found disputable—claims of the Hungarian government and MOL, Hungary’s state-affiliated oil company, about the exact time it would take to switch oil refineries from Urals-type Russian oil to other types of oil. The Hungarian argument was that it would take between two and four years and hundreds of millions of dollars. But the Polish PM’s experts concluded that this could be achieved in a much shorter time than the Hungarian claims. Morawiecki also confronted Novák with the fact that, even if the Russians shut down the Friendship (Druzhba) pipeline, Hungary would not collapse, because Hungary could replace the lost oil through the Adriatic pipeline from Croatia.

The Polish prime minister and his staff prepared in advance on the topic of natural gas, too. Morawiecki lectured his guest on the various interconnectors and alternative gas routes that, according to his experts, could help Hungary to gradually wean itself off Russian gas if it wanted to. He also mentioned that the Hungarian government signed a long-term gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom in the autumn of 2021, which also did not point in the direction of reducing Russian energy dependency.

Ties between Warsaw and Budapest, once some of the closest in the EU, are now so bad that the Hungarian embassy in Poland is the site of demonstrations, receives death threats and even a package filled with excrement.

Hungary’s refusal to stop importing energy from Russia raises the prospect of the pipeline getting the Nord Stream treatment. Zelensky apparently wants to blow up the pipeline, according to recent reporting from the Washington Post on the Discord leaks, which continue to conveniently trickle out. Was this particular report merely a sign of Zelensky’s craziness or was it also a warning to Budapest?

(The European Commission is denying reports that EC President Ursula von der Leyen proposed to Kiev that it merely shut down the pipeline or at least threaten to do so as a way to pressure Budapest.)

Hungary receives most of its oil via the Druzhba pipeline that goes from Russia through Ukraine. The Russian government previously reported that 4.9 million tons of oil were transported to Hungary through the pipeline in 2022. Oil is also being transported from Hungary to Slovakia and Czechia. In April Hungary also amended a natural gas contract with Russia on friendly terms. Details from the Associated Press:

Speaking at a news briefing in Moscow, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Russian state energy company Gazprom had agreed to allow Hungary, if needed, to import quantities of natural gas beyond the amounts agreed to in a long-term contract that was amended last year.

The price of the gas, which would reach Hungary through the Turkstream pipeline, would be capped at 150 euros ($163) per megawatt hour, Szijjarto said, part of an agreement that will allow Hungary to pay down gas purchases on a deferred basis if market prices go above that level.

Why is Hungary being so obstinate? Hungarian officials have explained many times; here is a recent summary from foreign minister Péter Szijjártó speaking at the EU-Central Asia Economic Forum. From Daily News Hungary:

He told the discussion focusing on ways to improve the regional business climate that the world had regrettably started moving towards the formation of blocs. “This is the worst possible news” for central Europe, he said, arguing that history had shown that the region always lost out on conflicts between East and West.

When Hungary argues in favour of connectivity and “civilised” cooperation between East and West, it is not because the country is anybody’s friend or spy but because “we are aware of our own national interests and we are aware of our own national experience,” he added.

But the European garden cult couldn’t care less. There has been talk that Hungary’s lack of enthusiasm to commit economic suicide for the cause could eventually lead to a “Huxit.”

The bloc does not currently have the power to kick out a member state, but it could make life so miserable for Hungary that Budapest could opt to take the exit route. Such a path would be extremely unlikely – at least in the near future. Orbán has repeatedly rejected any such idea, saying that leaving would not make sense because of how intertwined Hungary is with the EU. Almost four-fifths of its exports go to the EU market, and its economy is supported by investment from German companies such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

It’s essentially another Turkiye situation. While Turkiye is in NATO and not the EU, it similarly drives Western officials mad by refusing to pick a side and benefiting from trying to occupy the middle ground (Budapest has also joined Ankara in blocking Sweden’s bid to join NATO), but trying to remain friendly with both sides is becoming increasingly tenuous.

While Moscow and Beijing respect such a position and do not pressure countries to choose a side, the same cannot be said for the West’s current with-us-or-against-us attitude. As German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently told her Chinese counterpart: “Neutrality means taking the side of the aggressor.”

As the EU becomes increasingly confrontational with China, it’s only leading to more disagreements with Budapest. Both Hungary and China are on the same page about the need for a negotiated peace to the war in Ukraine, and they’re also working to increase trade ties.

Such deals are moving against the current in the EU, however, which wants to “derisk” from China while still transitioning to electric vehicles and meeting ambitious climate targets. It’s entirely unclear exactly how it will accomplish both, but Hungary is expected to get with the program nonetheless.

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  1. GramSci

    Excellent summary. I especially liked the ‘garden’ link to Massad’s opinion piece in Middle East Eye.

    1. begob

      Yes, a neat reproach to liberalism. I wonder, though, about the dynamic of immigrants leaping the wall to follow the stolen wealth. Not that I disagree, but how is the process measured, how does the theft relate to the pursuit?

  2. vao

    A couple of complements to the article:

    1) The EU is considering sanctioning the Druzhba pipeline. Not just Hungary, but also Germany is fighting that idea — which would basically kill short and medium-term prospects for the Schwedt refinery (which, by the way, restarted its operations recently after shutting down during one month for maintenance and reconfiguration).

    2) Apparently, Ukraine has already repeatedly launched attacks against the Druzhba pipeline in the past month. So forceful “warnings to Budapest” are already being sent; I presume that, should the 11th EU sanction package not include the ban of Druzhba, then the “Nordstream treatment” will be applied to it in short order.

  3. John

    The EU has lost its collective mind at least at the governmental level with the enthusiastic support and encouragement of the US.

    1. Synoia

      They appear to Hate Russia for just existing , Or the US bought then in some manner. Or both.

      1. digi_owl

        More like they hate Putin for existing, and Russians for supporting him.

        They want a return to the Yeltsin era, where Russia was a dysfunctional nation that they could exploit for cheap resources.

        Putin ended all that by taking down a few key oligarchs (a term used very selectively in the west, even as it may well fit well for many of our own rich people), scaring the rest in line.

        They had convinced themselves that the Ukraine thing would either see Putin back down in the last second, or that the conflict escalating would see mass demonstrations in Moscow. Neither happened.

          1. digi_owl

            Almost as if empires and banana republics are the default mode of operation for humanity.

    1. Kouros

      I think all Romanian governments must include the Hungarians’ party (UDMR) in their ruling coalitions, if they want to govern. Hungary is not that isolated… And Romanian help to Ukraine’s war effort was very close to Hungary’s, that is about nil.

  4. Piotr Berman

    It is a pity that I could learn nothing new about Greece that was mentioned in the intro, my own knowledge being very sketchy. The only industry in which Greece is leading is shipping, and cooperation of Greek shippers with sanctions is very, very sketchy. And Turkstream goes through Greece, so one should expect a similar deal as Hungary got. Greece was clobbered by EU powers in few ways, and EU popularity in Greece is probably as tenuous as in Hungary, and for a number of reasons, EU is reluctant to press Greece as publicly as Hungary.

    Rather isolated on EU flank, Greece was “supported” by EU institutions closing eyes for rank “book cooking” in Greek budget. Euro decreased interest rates in countries that had week currencies before joining, but the necessary (especially in the hindsight) part of the package was some degree of fiscal discipline. Enforced early, it would prevent subsequent collapse.

    When the collapse came, Greece was thrown into depression as a cautionary example for the rest of EU, but with a heavy cost to Greek political system. I guess that a heavy pressure to clamp down on transshipping Russian gas and oil could give rise to a Greek Orban equivalent. Ironically, Greek ship-to-ship transfers can be essential for major EU countries, and Greeks do it discretely.

    Another case is resurgence of Fico in Slovakia. With Fall elections, we can see a bold companion of Orban at the help there. (I have seen a grimly sounding YouTube video on the topic, with “Fayko” (rather than Fitso, Fi like in Fit) looming like a threat.

    Lastly, Moldova is not in EU, but currently it is an EU protectorate, with unpopular government propped with somewhat meager but growing subsidies and sanctions against opposition political parties. Democratic norms in EU and dependencies are that if you speak Russian, you deserve no political rights whatsoever, and if you are friendly or neutral, EU and American propaganda apparatus attack you without mercy. Will we see sanctions on EU politicians that stray from DC/Brussels consensus?

    1. The Rev Kev

      The present government of Moldova supposedly got into power with some dodgy counting of overseas votes according to the boys at The Duran. Also, having President Maia Sandu state that she wants Moldova absorbed by Romania would not be making her even more popular as that is not what she ran on. Having a Romanian passport does not help her cause either.

      1. Kouros

        Out of 2.6 mil Moldovans, 1 mil has Romanian passports, so that shouldn’t be that big of an issue, I would think.

        However, if Russians would end up getting close to Odessa, things would get higher clarity, including for the population in Moldova (as in how they would cleave).

        BTW, Romania doesn’t want to legalize same sex marriage and it is deeply, deeply Orthodox.

  5. The Rev Kev

    A great post which covers so much territory. So I will make a few observations. Stripping Hungary of the rotating EU presidency is really getting on dodgy ground because when you do it against Hungary, then every other country in the EU will see that the rules will be ignored over personal vendettas which will undercut relations with the EU itself. So if it happened, it would be a tactical victory but a strategic defeat for the EU. And if the US embassy wants to play games with billboards displaying messages against the Hungarian government, two can play that game as the Cubans have done and put up billboards with their own message. But really, Embassies are not supposed to do this sort of mickey mouse stuff in their host countries and it is not what an Embassy is all about.

    It would be ironic if the eventual peace talks between the Ukraine and the Russian Federation took place in Budapest because of their neutral stance. How many other countries in Europe could make the same claim? And the Poles may be demanding that Hungary cut off all Russian energy and claim that it could be done in a very short time but the Poles also claimed that you can train up a tank crewman in only four months which makes them bare-faced liars. Zelensky may claim too that he wants to blow up the Druzhba pipeline but that would mean that he would lose all the transit fees from that oil passing through the Ukraine. And who is to say where those transit fees go anyway?

    The EU also complains that Hungary has blocked a €500 million allocation from the European Peace Facility to Ukraine (actually it is a war/slush fund) but the EU is withholding billions owed to Hungary because they don’t like them and made up some excuses to do so. Now you and I would say just give Hungary their owed billions and they will pass that allocation but the EU wants their cake and to eat it to. But country will be a country to keep an eye on as the war in the Ukraine wraps up. It may very well be one of the few islands of stability in the EU after the war due to their neutralist stance.

  6. synoia

    But really, Embassies are not supposed to do this sort of mickey mouse stuff in their host countries and it is not what an Embassy is all.

    But, but the US is exceptional. (It took me much thought in my youth to understand that being “exceptional” has two meanings.

    For many years I believed it to mean “Better or strives to be the best”. However I have slowly and sadly come to the conclusion that “Not subject to rules or agreement” might be a better understanding.

    1. Michaelmas

      How about exceptional as in special, and special as in ‘special Olympics.’

      I am unable to think of an empire in history that has p*ssed away its strategic advantages so quickly and arrogantly as the US has, though others are welcome to educate me.

      Truly the Dunning-Kruger empire.

  7. Ignacio

    This was a depressing reading for me. The EU, as Orban says has turned quite a different thing which I dislike very much. I also dislike very much the EC approach to EU Politics trying to grab all the power it can, quite possibly very well beyond the principles, responsibilities and functions attributed to the EU as stated in the two main treaties. For instance, regarding foreign policy, but not only. At the same time the EC makes life difficult for state and regional institutions which in turn get much of the blame (politics has turned a blaming game) and tries to purport itself as the institution everybody in Europe trusts. They usually get higher valuation scores in the Eurobarometer compared with than state and regional governments. It also does the easy stuff of ruling by setting common targets on the basis of willingness, unrealistic in many cases and inapplicable in a homogeneous fashion to an all too diverse set of countries and regions with its given particularities. This type of governance, by setting targets, achievable or not, looks as a method imported from MBAs or company management and ignores the complexity of the societies being governed.

    According to the Eurobarometer, (See QA13) the French are becoming the more pessimistic about the future of the EU, only after Greece. I would welcome very much if France does a close examination of the political drift and the disaster the EU is becoming though I don’t believe the current French political class is up to the task.

    1. Ignacio

      Harmonization in the EU has worked very well in a particular issue: the leadership and political class has become almost equally moronic in all the EU.

  8. dandyandy

    The list of patients to be cured with colour revolution treatment grows; Orban, Erdogan, AMLO, MBS, maybe even Croatian president Milanovic.

    What a time to be alive and witness all this.

    1. spud


      as bad as brexit was bungled, and as bad as british leadership is, its sorta responsive to the people, and i mean barely, but its something. and the people can duke it out with the idiotic politicians, and maybe even win.

      then look at the free trade zone the E.U. france riots and Macron travels the world rubbing shoulders with the oligarchs, and doubling down on their policies, with hardly any trouble at all.

      a free trader is a hammer, orban is a nail. so he should stay out of planes, and not walk to close to man holes.

  9. tevhatch

    The EC (The European Communities) mission was peace and prosperity, that’s why the USA had to have it replaced by The EU, an anti-democratic handmaiden of NATO. A sort of NED to the CIA.

  10. Sausage Factory

    Von Der Leyen is a trojan horse for the Americans (exactly how does a gynaecologist become head of the EU?) She used to work and live there, washington I believe, that means only one thing. How did she even get the job as head of the EU when she was never in the running until the very last moment? Promoted by the Rothschild boy Macron as a compromise candidate. She came with plenty of baggage from the Minister of Defence job in Germany (want to know why German can’t provide much gear to Ukraine? Ask Von der Leyen) Accusations of corruption, incompetence, missing money and then missing evidence, the EU gig came in the nick of time. Baerbock any different or Schloz? Germany seems to be willingly self destructing so that the US can off its most challenging economic rival in the West (the entire continent of Europe) Its hard to believe its all just utter incompetence from the individual governments, to the EU itself and then the leadership of NATO. All seem to be living in a self created delusional world which they use the press to fill the information space with the very drivel that keeps them doubling down on madness. At this rate the EU should collapse at the same time as NATO.

    1. Yves Smith

      Von der Leyen is from a family with hundreds of years of being elite bureaucrats. Why she gets as much credit for that as she does is beyond me.

  11. Isla White

    How long before qualified majority in EU / EC voting gets mandated ? This is already happening from time to time in the Council of the EU

    A great result for those claiming list voting systems, that have supplied all politicians in the EU, many having jobs for life either in the EU or rotated back periodically to their homeland vs the UK’s time honoured ‘First past the Post’ that deselects the sh*ts. So making them, and if necessary their party, unelectable.


    How does the Council vote?

    Depending on the issue under discussion, the Council of the EU takes its decisions by:

    simple majority (14 member states vote in favour)
    qualified majority (55% of member states, representing at least 65% of the EU population, vote in favour)
    unanimous vote (all votes are in favour)

    The Council can vote only if a majority of its members is present. A member of the Council may only act on the behalf of one other member.


  12. Quinn


    “Daniel J. Beddowes and Flavio Cipollini, who together authored a book titled The EU: The Truth About the Fourth Reich – How Hitler Won the Second World War, argue that Funk put the finishing touches on the plans for what is today the EU.

    According to Beddowes and Cipollini, “[i]t was Funk who predicted the coming of European economic unity. Funk was also Adolf Hitler’s economics minister and his key economics advisor.” The authors indicate that Hitler’s post-war plans foresaw a federalized, economically integrated European Union free of “the clutter of small nations,” and that these plans were themselves based on a belief held by Lenin, that “federation is a transitional form towards complete union of all nations.” Therefore, argue the authors, it is not by chance that the EU closely resembles Hitler’s blueprint for a unified Europe, and that most EU member-states are getting poorer while Germany is continuously getting richer.”

  13. Irrational

    An excellent summary of the sordid facts. Just one little twist to add: it is the European Parliament, which passed a resolution to bar Hungary from the presidency (by 442 to 144 votes). For this to actually take effect, the European Commission would then have to make a proposal which the Council of Ministers (so all the countries of the EU) and the Parliament would then have to pass. I confess I don’t know if the Council would have to pass it unanimously (in which case Hungary vetoes) or by qualified majority (in which case we get to see how stupid our dear leaders are).

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