PM Orbán: Europe must be ready to deal with Ukraine on its own

The prime minister said Europe had not given the correct response because the Ukraine conflict should have been localised, but had since been globalised.

In a speech delivered at an event celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Swiss conservative weekly Weltwoche in Zurich on Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Europe must be ready for a potential political turnaround in the US that would leave the bloc on its own in handling “the huge geopolitical conflict” in Ukraine and finding a political solution to an “almost insoluble case” while bearing the costs.

However, Europe, the prime minister added, was “getting poorer” and did not have the money to deal with such a “big crisis”. He said there was no question that Russia’s attack on Ukraine had been an act of aggression and a violation of international law. But, he added, Europe had not given the correct response because the conflict should have been localised, but had since been globalised. The West’s strategy, he said, had been for Russia to lose on the battlefield because of the Western assistance to Ukraine, leading to a change in leadership in Russia. But now, Orbán said, it was obvious that Ukraine would not achieve victory on the battlefield, and realistically there would be no change in Moscow, either. He said a “plan B” was needed because there was no point in the West just continuing to fund Ukraine. Europe, however, has no such plan in place yet, the prime minister added. He also pointed out the West’s “hypocrisy”, arguing that the US, for instance, was buying significant volumes of nuclear fuel from Russia. Hungary’s leadership also sees the extent to which Ukrainians are suffering, he said, noting that many of the ethnic Hungarians from western Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region were dying in the war. That was why, he said, Hungary wanted the fighting to end as soon as possible. The most important consideration is achieving a ceasefire, and then talks on a long-term peace agreement can begin, Orbán said. Asked about his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán said it was important to understand Russians in order to know how to deal with them. Moscow has a different system in place, he said, noting that whereas in the West freedom was the main guiding principle, in Russia it was security because that was what was needed to keep a country of that size together. Concerning China, the prime minister said he believed the country presented a major opportunity for Hungary and it was important to cooperate with Beijing. He said he disagreed with the view that economic ties between China and Europe should be severed.

PM Orbán also said Europe had lost “politicians of great stature”. With the exit of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac, “Europe lost its ability to have leaders able to take forceful action,” he said. The place of strong politicians had been taken over by bureaucrats, he said. Former EC President Jean-Claude Juncker “declared the EC to have become a political body.” But the change necessary in the EU can only be introduced by politicians, and its political leadership should be taken over by the European Council, the body comprising heads of member states and governments, he said. Meanwhile, central institutions are determined by the “progressive liberalism imported from the US,” he said. Central Europe has a particular responsibility in this situation, “especially Hungary where there is no liberal hegemony, no coalition fighting, migration or street fights”, PM Orbán said. The prime minister added that Europe "has lost its ability to govern itself", failing to set itself goals or recognise the means to achieve them. Europe’s share of world economic output is falling, Orbán said, adding that by 2030 Germany would be the last European country to remain among the top ten economic powers, in tenth place. The European Union is holding elections next year, and the new power relations will also have an effect on Switzerland in issues such as its role in the EU’s common market, Orbán said. Hungary, which will take over the EU presidency in the second half of 2024, will also be able to shape the EU’s agenda, he added. Europe, he said, had failed to handle its own enlargement as well as regional conflicts in Ukraine and the Western Balkans. Orbán said it was important for Europe to maintain its strategic sovereignty. “Europe’s fate is linked to the US”, he said: “If Washington loses space, we will lose out, and that is the ruling tendency today.” After winning the Cold War, western Europe saw it useful to partner with another Christian entity, the United States, he said. That had changed because the progressive liberals were in power in the US, spreading their principles forcefully, he said.