Pro-Putin leaders win Hungary and Serbia votes, reminding Kremlin it has friends in high places

In both Hungary and Serbia, openly pro-Russian parties comfortably won legislative elections, giving Putin a welcome reminder that, despite the international community’s strong and largely united response to the invasion, he has some friends in the West.
The most significant victory came when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his nationalist Fidesz party won a landslide victory. Hungary is a member of both the European Union and NATO, which means Putin can claim he has a friend with seats at the top table of two of his most hated institutions.

On Sunday night, during his victory speech, Orban goaded not only the EU but also Ukraine.

“We have such a victory that you can see it from the moon, but for sure you can see it from Brussels,” he said, adding that Fidesz “will remember this victory until the end of our lives because we had to fight against a large number of opponents.” . Included in that list of opponents were Brussels bureaucrats, the international media and, deliberately, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky has directly criticized Orban for not supporting Ukraine with the same enthusiasm as many of his European counterparts in recent weeks.

Putin was quick to congratulate Orban on his victory. But few believe it will amount to much more than a token victory and do little to affect the EU’s resolution on Ukraine.

The reality is that Orban was expected to win and the EU has been working around his leadership for years. Despite stalling from the start, Orban has agreed to EU sanctions against Russia and has been largely in line with the rest of the Western alliance. Hungary’s main block in terms of support for Ukraine has been Orban’s reluctance to allow weapons to flow through his country to support Ukrainian troops.

Hungary is also the main stumbling block in EU talks on a ban on energy imports from Russia. Germany said over the weekend that the bloc needed to discuss a ban on Russian gas after reports of war crimes in Ukraine, a move Orban has repeatedly ruled out.

Hungary’s obstinacy has angered its key ally Poland, Europe’s other big rule-of-law violator, which has used its veto powers to shield Orban from EU punishment numerous times in recent years. It is unclear if Poland will do so after the war ends.

Hungary has strayed far from EU values ​​on the rule of law and human rights, cracking down on cultural institutions and suppressing press freedom.

Most attempts to punish Hungary at the EU level have failed, not least because meaningful action would require all EU member states to agree in a vote.

Poland and Hungary have had something of a pact of late, effectively both exercising their EU vetoes to protect each other. However, Poland is arguably the biggest anti-Russia hawk in the EU and it is so far unclear how this will affect the Poland-Hungary axis once the war is over.

And since the start of the war, EU officials have been quietly talking about offering carrots to Poland to draw it closer to the rest of the bloc, instead of treating Poland and Hungary like two criminals.

Serbian Aleksandar Vucic, pictured after his victory on Sunday, has been placed in a difficult position by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The situation is very different in Serbia, as it is not a member of the EU or NATO. It is currently going through the process of joining the EU, with negotiations expected to be finalized within the next two years.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has been placed in a difficult position by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For years, he has tried to balance maintaining strong diplomatic and economic ties with Russia (and a particular fondness for Putin) with the Western embrace that would come with full EU membership.

During the election campaign, Vučić did not deviate from this balance and ran on a platform of peace and stability in the region, Reuters reported.

Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, while its military maintains ties to the Russian military. Although Serbia has backed two United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has refused to impose sanctions against Moscow, Reuters reported.

The Kremlin also supports Belgrade’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence by blocking its membership in the United Nations.

There is no doubt that the weekend’s election results, particularly in Hungary, will have caused Putin to smile and leaders in Brussels to shake heads. For the EU, however, more Orban really means more of the same. He could provide Putin with some propaganda victories and could put a damper on the EU’s broader plans in the future. But the EU has been working on ways to work around Orban for years and knows that when the time comes, Orban is happier inside the club causing trouble than plotting to leave.

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