This Tuesday was the start of the series of talks “Storm over Europe – the Ukraine war, the energy crisis and geopolitical challenges” in Berlin’s E-Werk. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, answered questions from Cicero editor Alexander Marguier and the publisher of the Berliner Zeitung, Holger Friedrich.

Viktor Orbán has been criticized by Western Europe for his Hungary First policy for years – but that he hides his policy behind bubbles and decentralized mobilization rhetoric is not one of the allegations. This was demonstrated once again on Tuesday, when Hungary’s prime minister visited Berlin’s E-Werk for a one-hour panel discussion with Alexander Marguier, Cicero’s editor-in-chief and publisher, and Holger Friedrich, publisher of the Berliner Zeitung, during his visit to Germany. “Storm over Europe – the Ukraine war, the energy crisis and geopolitical challenges” is the title of a new series, which started with the discussion with Orbán.

The article first appeared on under the title “Hope for peace means Donald Trump”. Subscribe to the Cicero newsletter here.

As a lawyer, he has absolutely no doubt that Russia has broken international law, which is why Hungary is clearly on the side of Ukraine, according to Orbán. However, he considers it an “immense problem” that it has not yet been possible to isolate this conflict.

He then launched into a eulogy for ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel: He had fought tough conflicts with Merkel on migration policy, but the way the then Chancellor acted in the Crimea crisis in 2014 was a “diplomatic masterpiece”. Because Germany immediately entered into negotiations with Russia and thus isolated the conflict so that it remained a Russian-Ukrainian conflict. “Therefore: Thank you, Angela!” Orbán said.

In the current war, however, nobody tried to negotiate, which is why the conflict is now international, in the course of which nobody asks what the interests of countries like Hungary are. “I am not willing to help Ukrainians in such a way that I ruin Hungary economically and Hungarians die,” Orbán said. There are two camps in Europe: the war camp and the peace camp. “I belong to the peace camp, so I am for an immediate ceasefire – no matter what the Ukrainians think of it. That distinguishes me from those who want to derive decisions from Ukrainian interests.” The moderators wanted to know whether there had been war with Merkel. Orbán’s curt reply: “Definitely.”

Orbán’s program can be summarized under the motto “Hungary first”. Everything else, according to co-moderator Holger Friedrich, he wants to leave on the right and left. But Hungary is part of the EU. Isn’t Orbán pursuing a policy to the detriment of the European perspective if, as at the beginning of the war, he entered into negotiations on energy supplies early on, although Brussels had pleaded for a united European approach to sanctions against Russia?

Orbán stuck to the Hungary First position: there is no European perspective from which national interests can be derived. On the contrary, the European perspective is formed from a bundling of national interests. The sanctions of the EU Commission are “catastrophic”. Not the sanctions themselves, but the “primitive way” in which they would be implemented. However, the main argument for the sanctions is quite logical, commented moderator Alexander Marguier: Russia’s war is not to be financed. What does Orbán imagine an intelligent sanctions regime that does not harm Germany and Russia? The Hungarian prime minister failed to provide a concrete answer.

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Instead, he explained why the sanctions were primitive: “We didn’t want to finance the Russians, but we actually finance them.” In six months, Russia had earned 158 billion euros, half of which came from Europe. One should not only consider the quantity of raw materials, but also their market prices. “When the prices rise, the Russians sell less gas, but they still make more money.” Sanctions are only worthwhile if you are the stronger. “When it comes to energy, we are dwarfs, while the Russians are giants. A dwarf sanctions the giant and then wonders why it doesn’t work.”

However, according to Russia, it wants to destabilize the West. It is therefore doubtful whether Russia would supply gas again at all if the sanctions were lifted. Marguier wanted to know from the Hungarian head of government what makes him so sure that Russia would deliver gas without sanctions. “I’m not proposing to lift the sanctions, but to re-carve them,” Orbán countered.

Especially since it is not in Europe’s interest to swap dependency on Russia for American ones. That may be more convenient for us, Orbán said, because unlike Russia, the US is democratic. “But we would just change hands.” Europe needs four or five different providers to be independent.

In the current tectonic shifts in geopolitics, Orbán sees the West as weaker than ever. He himself is accused of being a Trojan horse of Putin with his politics. But a large part of the world – India, African countries – also did not go along with the US call for an alliance against Russia, according to Orbán.

Such ignoring of the USA would not have existed in earlier times. “We have never been so weak globally,” said Orbán. Therefore: “Ceasefire, immediately,” he repeated, “otherwise tens of thousands will die and the war will be carried to Europe.” The Pope, Henry Kissinger and Jürgen Habermas are also in favor of a ceasefire “instead of long-term dogmatism”.

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But what was the point of negotiation anyway, Marguier wanted to know. “It would be better if the public didn’t hear what I’m saying now,” the prime minister added. “The ceasefire does not have to come about between Russia and Ukraine, but between Russia and the USA.” The war only remains with regard to the outcome openly, because Ukraine gets external resources – weapons, information – from the USA. So only the US could end the war in negotiations with Russia. “That’s why Joe Biden went too far with his comments about Putin. The hope for peace is Donald Trump.”

That sounds a bit like the 19th century, according to Marguier: as if two great powers were standing bent over a large table with a map of the world, negotiating the division of the world. So what role should Ukraine play in this whole geopolitical game? “There is a bigger problem,” Orbán countered. First of all, you have to ask what role Europe is playing.

Europe lost its sovereignty after World War II. The fact that there was no further war was not the fault of the EU, as is often said. But solely because the USA and the Soviet Union had reached an agreement. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a great opportunity to regain sovereignty. Chancellor Merkel has shown this potential for sovereignty in the Crimean crisis. But now there is a danger that Europe will be left out again, because there is no European security structure, only the security structure of NATO. “Macron is right: you have to stand up for strategic independence. Otherwise there will be a new security situation that has been agreed upon by the USA and Russia.”

However, Orbán is currently quite alone with his geopolitical positions even in Eastern Europe, because the Visegrád Group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia) is drifting apart on geopolitical issues – example Poland. “It has always been like this: we have a brotherly relationship with Poland, but for historical reasons we do not agree on geopolitical issues. In questions of national pride, the concept of the family and gender politics, on the other hand, a dividing line runs through Europe.” East of this line, migration is seen more as a danger than as an enrichment. “It certainly sounds horrible for Germans, but east of this line national pride is an important driving force.” This view is constantly attacked by progressive liberals, which is why it is so important that the Visegrád Group appears united and stands up for conservative values.

But that has become more difficult, and the “origin of all evil” in this regard is the British exit from the EU. The British, along with the Visegrád Group, would not have accepted EU federalism. With Brexit the balance was lost and now the federalists from Paris, Berlin, Brussels and elsewhere are in the majority. “Now there are things like debt settlement that undermine national interests,” Orbán said. “People will force us to do things we don’t want.”

After 1990, a policy of taking minorities into account had spread, countered Holger Friedrich. And not only in questions of sexual identity, but also in relation to the interests of smaller countries. “Hungary has benefited from this to the maximum and is now questioning this consideration of minorities to the maximum.” Holger Friedrich wanted to know whether the Ukraine should not also benefit from this. “I haven’t thought about that, good question!” Orbán replied.

First of all, however, the Ukrainian position should be understood. And the Hungarians understand them best. “People are talking about Bucha, but Bucha was called Budapest in 1956,” he added, referring to the Hungarian uprising that was crushed by the Soviet Union. “Our Selensky was hanged after the revolution. We don’t need to be told how brutal a Russian war can be. But the most we can do now is the ceasefire.”

The Hungarian prime minister was unable to give concrete ideas as to the conditions under which the war could end. “I don’t have lofty intellectual ambitions. Better 100 hours of unsuccessful negotiations than a gunshot. We’ll see what happens during negotiations. There is no concrete plan yet.” On the other hand, Orbán described his meeting with Chancellor Olaf Scholz the day before as “very exciting”: “Scholz understands things quickly and comprehensively, you can talk to him well. That I didn’t achieve anything is another question. But the negotiation itself was good nonetheless, and a Hungarian appreciates that.”

Angela Merkel has always rejected his “offers of tolerance”, i.e. tolerating the Hungarian perspective. Her successor in office, Scholz, had listened to Orbán’s position, but neither rejected nor endorsed it. Orbán also asked him: “Why don’t you let Hungary think what it thinks based on its history? We don’t have a multicultural society and I don’t see why we should do it any differently. We feel comfortable.” He cannot hand over a country to future generations that has to accept directives from Brussels. Just as he does not want to leave behind an over-indebted country.

“The national feeling is so strong in Hungary. If you are not free as a nation, you are not free as an individual,” was the conclusion of Orbán, who feels pressure from Western Europe because of his controversial homosexual law. But he did not come to Germany to complain. Because: “I learned from Merkel: whoever complains is weak.”