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

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

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

“We have a victory as seen from the moon, but it is sure to be seen 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 adversaries.” Included in this list of opponents were Brussels bureaucrats, international media and, above all, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky directly criticized Orban for not supporting Ukraine as enthusiastically as many of his European counterparts have in recent weeks.

Putin was quick to congratulate Orban on his victory. But few people think it will be much more than a token victory and will 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. Although he dragged his feet at first, Orban accepted EU sanctions against Russia and largely aligned himself with the rest of the Western alliance. Hungary’s main obstacle in terms of supporting Ukraine has been Orban’s reluctance to allow arms to flow through his country in support of Ukrainian troops.

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

Hungary’s stubbornness has annoyed key ally Poland, Europe’s other major rule of law offender, which has used its veto power to protect Orban from EU sanctions to many times in recent years. It is not known whether Poland will do so after the end of the war.

Hungary has moved away from EU values ​​of rule of law and human rights, repression of cultural institutions and suppression of freedom of the press.

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

Poland and Hungary recently struck a sort of pact, effectively exercising their veto power over the EU to protect each other. However, Poland is arguably the biggest anti-Russian hawk in the EU and it is unclear so far 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 Poland carrots to get closer to the rest of the bloc, rather than treating Poland and Hungary like two delinquents.

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

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 due to be completed within the next two years.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was 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 waver from this balance and presented himself on a platform of peace and stability in the region, Reuters reported.

Serbia depends almost entirely on Russian gas, while its military maintains ties with the Russian military. Although Serbia has backed two United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has refused to impose sanctions on 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 results of the weekend’s elections – particularly in Hungary – will have put a smile on Putin’s face and the leaders of Brussels hold their heads in their hands. For the EU, however, more Orban really means more of the same. It could provide Putin with propaganda gains and it could put the brakes on broader European projects in the future. But the EU have been working on ways to work around Orban for years and know that when the going gets tough, Orban is happier inside the club causing trouble than plotting to leave.

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