The United States is putting Hungary under great pressure due to its objections to the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline and the expansion of the Paks nuclear power station, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in Munich on Thursday evening, after an address delivered at the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
At a question and answer session, Orban said the pipeline and expansion project were primarily economic issues, but they had become entangled in “geopolitical, military-policy and security-policy issues” due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
Washington interprets both issues as “getting closer to Russia”, whereas “we don’t want to get any closer to anyone; neither do we wish to distance ourselves from anyone.”
“We are not pursuing a Russia-friendly policy but a Hungary-friendly policy,” he added.
The prime minister said that construction of the South Stream gas pipeline and the Paks expansion were both in Hungary’s national interest.
The construction of South Stream, which is a “twin” of Nord Stream that supplies Russian gas to Germany, bypassing Ukraine, serves Hungary’s interests, ensuring secure gas supplies by eliminating risks posed by the situation in Ukraine, Orban said. Even if this project does not diversify gas sources, it does diversify delivery routes, he added.
Concerning the upgrade of Hungary’s sole nuclear power plant at Paks, Orban said cheap energy was key in strengthening Hungary’s competitiveness. Unlike Germany, Hungary does not have vast funds to direct towards supporting renewable energy production, and the country’s own energy resources are scarce, he said.
The “only possible means” for Hungary to reduce its dependence on external energy resources is the expansion of the state-owned Paks nuclear plant, he said. Since the plant has been built using Russian technology it is “evident” that its expansion must be carried out in cooperation with the Russians, Orban said. Yet the US interprets this as Hungary’s “moving closer to Russia” at a time when its position is that Europe should instead “move away” from Russia rather than cooperate with it. This is why the US “is strongly opposed” to Paks, Orban said, noting the US “would have also been rather keen” on constructing its two new blocks.
In connection with the crisis in Ukraine, Orban called the West’s resolute actions “fully justified”, adding, however, that economic sanctions imposed on Russia “have afflicted Hungary as well”. He said unless a more reasonable policy is invented, central Europe and Germany, too, will suffer grave economic consequences in the years to come.
Orban called for a compensation scheme to cover countries that stay loyal to the policy of sanctions but suffer its consequences. This calls for a solution through diplomatic means, Orban said, urging “substantive talks” as soon as possible. This is in the interest of central Europe and Germany as well, he added.
But since neither central Europe nor Germany can be “disloyal” to their own alliances they “should make a positive influence” within the EU and NATO. But these two alliances “at the moment have no other alternative policy” than sanctions which have had serious consequences, Orban said.
The prime minister said it is in Hungary’s interest that there should be a democratic, self-sustaining Ukraine “positioned within the space” between Hungarians and Russians, because Hungary “has already been a neighbour of Russia” and would not want to be in a similar position again, he added.