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Putin’s friend in Europe

Viktor Orban: sucking up to strongmen. Jure Makovec/AFP/Getty

Viktor Orban’s landslide election victory in Hungary will cause “dismay” in Brussels and Kyiv, says Gideon Rachman in the FT. Orban has methodically rigged his country’s political system for more than a decade: “The courts have been packed, the civil service purged and the electoral system gerrymandered.” The opposition leader was given only five minutes airtime by state TV across the entire campaign. Orban has also sucked up to strongmen, blocking an EU statement criticising China over Hong Kong and frequently praising Vladimir Putin. In his victory speech, he boasted that his vanquished “opponents” included “Brussels bureaucrats” and Volodymyr Zelensky, who had the temerity to call him out for his love of Putin.

But the war in Ukraine has put Orban in a bind. His “balancing act” of enjoying EU subsidies and investment while courting the bloc’s enemies will be tolerated far less in the current climate of “moral outrage” against Russia. Poland, another illiberal EU government, previously worked with Hungary against Brussels – but now it’s “leading the cry for tougher action” against Putin and distancing itself from its former ally. Orban claims “his brand of illiberal conservatism represents the future of Europe”. Given that another authoritarian nationalist, Putin, is currently committing war crimes on Hungary’s eastern border, the situation in Budapest should be taken “extremely seriously”.

🇵🇱❌🇭🇺 Poland views Russia as “the greatest threat to its security”, says Wojciech Przybylski in Politico, so its growing rift with Hungary is no surprise. The Polish president even took to TV to criticise Orban for his ties with Moscow. Exploiting this diplomatic divide is the best chance the EU has of curbing “the growing democratic deficit” in both countries.