‘It is a red line’ Orban to be thorn in EU’s side in pledge to veto key Putin decision

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Some EU leaders are mulling the idea of including energy sanctions or even a full embargo on Russian oil and gas as the next package of measures to punish Vladimir Putin for his attack on Ukraine. But Hungary, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria, which heavily rely on Russian energy, are so far opposing the idea.

Some analysts have suggested though that, should Germany and Italy be convinced on the implementation of the policy, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban would also follow suit.

Eurointelligence director Wolfgang Munchau wrote: “Orban has a reputation for being intransigent, but his bark is worse than his bite.

“The really important opponents to an energy import ban are Germany, and to a lesser extent Italy and the Netherlands.

“We think that Hungary could be bought off in some way, shape or form if push came to shove.”

But speaking to Express.co.uk, Secretary of State for international communication Zoltan Kovacs denied his government could ever agree to such policy.

He said: “This is a red line for us.

“As a matter of fact, we see so many words and claims out there, which try to suggest that this is possible

“But everybody knows that what they are suggesting by embargo and sanction policies regarding energy cannot be done.

“In the case of Hungary, that would mean an immediate collapse of the Hungarian economy, basically, and certainly would endanger the Hungarian population.

“So we have no choice, no alternative in terms of physical infrastructure, nor in terms of available gas elsewhere.

“Not to speak about the possibility, how it’s going to be transferred to Hungary.

“So there’s no alternative, full stop.

“It cannot be changed, not for the upcoming two, three years, but maybe in five years, reality on the ground is very stubborn.

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“And I believe it’s not only the case for Hungary, but for many other European states.

“To tell you one number on that, Europe is using around 400 billion cubic meters of natural gas, 300 billion is coming from abroad. Most of it is coming from Russia.

“So you have to think twice actually, how that can be substituted?

“Obviously the 50 billion that has been offered by the US so far is less than insufficient.

“It cannot be accepted by Hungary.”

After his third consecutive landslide victory in 2018, Hungary’s Viktor Orban said his strong new mandate allowed him to plan for 12 years ahead, aiming for an unbroken two-decade spell in power in the former communist Central European country.

On Sunday, Orban’s plan will be put to a stern test in a national election where polls suggest six opposition parties united against him for the first time are within a striking distance from unseating his nationalist Fidesz party.

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Fidesz swept elections in 2018 on a fierce anti-immigration campaign that earned him praise from former US President Donald Trump and Europe’s far right and set him on a collision course with Brussels.

Now, the 58-year-old leader, who has transformed Hungary into a self-styled “illiberal democracy” with a firm grip over media and loyalists in charge of top institutions, acknowledges this election will not be a walkover.

“The stakes of this election are, even for an old warhorse such as myself, much higher than I could have ever imagined,” Orban, who has evenly split the time in opposition and in power since post-communist Hungary’s first election in 1990, told pro-government channel HirTV on Monday.

Opinion polls give Orban’s party a narrow lead, but with about one-fifth of Hungary’s eight million voters still declaring to be undecided, the April 3 vote could still go either way.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upset Orban’s script, casting his close relations with Moscow in a new light.

He responded by tapping into Hungarians wish for security, posing on campaign billboards as their protector and accusing opposition politicians of trying to drag Hungary into the war, a charge they have denied.

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