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Orbán meets Putin in Moscow
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, for a much longer discussion than planned. In addition to the usual protocol, the following specifics topics were also discussed:
- The amount of gas destined for Hungary, fixed in a long-term agreement valid until 2036, will be increased by 1 billion cubic meters per year, and a final agreement on this would be signed in April.
- Viktor Orbán hopes that the number of Russian tourists arriving in Hungary may increase, thanks to the introduction of new direct flights.
- Hungary is expected to order from the Russian booster jab “Sputnik Light”, and the Hungarian vaccine factory under construction will probably also produce a Russian vaccine.
- A new Hungarian-Russian freight-logistics joint venture would be established in order to enlarge eastern freight traffic.
- Construction of the new Paks Nuclear Power Plant blocks may begin soon.
Of course, security issues were also given a prominent role in the press conference, as the level of tensions between Moscow and the EU/NATO are so high, that the united opposition parties even called on Orban to cancel his visit.
“In a tense situation around the conflict in Ukraine, such a friendly meeting is particularly harmful and contrary to our national interests,” as it suggests that NATO and EU member states are not united in rejecting Putin's proposals.”
According to them, the Hungarian prime minister "indirectly encourages the Russian president to further escalate the current tense situation,” they said in a statement.
They were also worried that Orbán might "take a decisive step in the construction of Paks 2" at the meeting, and that they want to bring another gas agreement "unfavorable to Hungary" under the roof.
Opposition parties also plan on launching a constitutional amendment aiming at tying Hungary’s potential exit from the EU or NATO to a referendum. According to the current legal framework, Orbán could very well do so by using his qualified majority at the Parliament.
Part of the pressure on the Hungarian government was the surprise visit of British defense minister Ben Wallace, Monday morning.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was in Budapest today for bilateral talks with the Hungarian Defense Minister Tibor Benkő focusing on European Security and the ongoing threat of Russian military forces on the border of Ukraine, the British government said in a statement.
“Following meetings in The Hague, Brussels and Germany last week, this visit was a chance for NATO allies to discuss ways to respond to the unfolding crisis on the Ukrainian border,” the statement added.
We discuss current issues including NATO, Russia and the security of Europe,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was quoted saying.
“Current Russian aggression will only lead to greater instability, migrant flows and higher prices,” he added.
In light of this prelude, Viktor Orbán - who spoke with NATO’s general secretary Jens Stoltenberg over the phone in Moscow Monday evening - said that this was the most important of the dozens of meetings with Putin: "The visit was also a peace mission," he explained, "and I said there was not a single leader in the European Union who wanted a conflict with Russia."
According to the Prime Minister, this is especially important in Central Europe, because there is no need for a new Cold War, Orban also said every effort should be made to reduce tensions through diplomacy.
The Prime Minister recalled that the situation was complicated, with great differences between the parties. What Russia wants is clear, there are big differences in the answers. But distance is not insurmountable, agreements can be made that meet everyone’s needs, according to him, without giving details on the latter.
Hungarian leading think tank Political Capital called the timing of the event unfortunate: “The timing of the Orbán-Putin meeting was unfortunate and its only visible benefit to the Hungarian cabinet is that the PM himself could claim that his personal relationship with Vladimir Putin is the foundation of the utility cost cuts enjoyed by Hungarians.”
Political capital published their opinion about the face to face meeting on Wednesday.
“Hungary’s diverging diplomatic path was on full display: while most EU or NATO member states, including those from the CEE region, condemned the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy one after another, the Hungarian premier lashed out against the EU’s sanctions policy concerning Russia. This – just like similar Hungarian statements diverging from those of western allies – are making Hungary the prime example in Russian state media’s narratives,” they added.
For Russia, the key point of the meeting was that President Vladimir Putin could condemn the West without backlash in the presence of an EU and NATO member state’s head of government, according to their analysis.
Following rumors about deployment of NATO troops in Hungary, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto confirmed in a statement last week that the Ministry of Defense was negotiating a US request for the deployment of NATO troops in Hungary.
As for CNN’s information that the number of NATO troops deployed in Hungary could be as much as a thousand troops, he expressed astonishment, saying he hadn’t heard that number from anyone yet, and it was just fake news.
Szijjarto also stressed that Hungary was against a new cold war:“Hungary is a loyal member of NATO, but our country’s interests are best served by a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. What is good for Hungary is peace on its eastern border, not armed conflict. Therefore we shall always assist in the negotiated settlement of disputed questions”.
Teachers stage a two-hour warning strike
After 2016, the teachers went on strike again, as there was no teaching in the participating schools and kindergartens between 8 and 10 am on Monday. Not surprisingly, Trade unions are demanding an increase in wages from the government and a reduction in workloads.
The Ministry of Human Resources, (responsible for education) repeatedly called the strike illegal, and said the protest was a result of the action of opposition parties/figures.
Several large schools in Budapest and the countryside joined the demonstration in large numbers, but in the smaller settlements, on the other hand, the threats of the ministry may have discouraged many teachers and many stayed away from the strike.
Gergely Karácsony, the mayor of Budapest, and Freeszfe also stood by the teachers.
“We entrust our children, our future, to teachers, yet the Orbán government values them the least,” Karácsony said in a Facebook post.
In international comparison, Hungary spends little on public and higher education - and this money is unequally distributed. Recently, a young teacher wrote a letter to the Prime Minister describing the harsh conditions he lived in, because of the meager salary he received. But his cries for help were in vain.. According to the power, the solution is not to allow them to strike,” the mayor added.
Twice as many indicated their participation in advance compared to those who actually went on strike, and according to the unions, there were two reasons why only about 20,000 people participated: many withdrew from the strike due to intimidation, and many came down with covid, and thus were unable to protest in person.
The government has put enormous pressure on parents and teachers to ensure that this strike does not take place, according to them.
After the press conference of the trade unions, a car demonstration started on Heroes' Square, organized by the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation. A Next, larger strike is planned for March 16.
Illegal use of Pegasus spyware? Everything a-okay: Data Protection watchdog assures
Since August, nearly a hundred Pegasus observations have been investigated and it has been established that everything has met the necessary standards, Attila Péterfalvi, the president of the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) said.
Applications submitted by the National Security Service and permits issued by the Minister of Justice were also examined, he added.
Péterfalvi underlined that the examinations carried out by his office were not formal but rather substantive. The monitoring service provided sufficient evidence in all cases that the data collection was necessary, because of reasons of national security, according to the NAIH.
The agency only checked some of the Pegasus surveillance cases, so it is certain that the software was deployed over a hundred cases.
Péterfalvi did not disclose the total number of times Pegasus was used by the State, but the NAIH investigated all cases that appeared recently in the local media.
Although Pegasus was developed in principle to eradicate terrorism and organized crime, investigative portal Direkt36 revealed that traces of the software were found on the phones of Hungarian journalists and businessmen.
The Israeli-made spyware can infiltrate other people's smartphones, capture images, videos, messages, and emails.
The spyware was deployed against:
- Szabolcs Panyi and András Szabó, journalists of Direkt36,
- Brigitta Csikász, journalist at Átlátszó
- Zoltán Páva, the operator of the opposition ezalenyeg.hu,
- Photojournalist Dániel Németh, who has been investigating the luxury trips of the NER elite for years (he also photographed Péter Szijjártó on the yacht of László Szjjj),
- and Zoltán Varga, one of the dinner partners of the owner of the Central Media Group, which also operates the 24.hu.
Observations with Pegasus required the approval of the Minister of Justice. Judit Varga delegated this to her deputy, Pál Völner, who has since been suspected of corruption by the prosecutor's office.