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Hungary’s Orbán congratulates Putin on widely criticized Russian election win

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his victory in an election that was criticized by most Western leaders.

Orbán, widely seen as Putin’s closest ally in the European Union, sent the letter of congratulations to Putin on Thursday after the release of official election results in Russia, according to his press chief. The Hungarian leader was the only head of a EU country to congratulate Putin on his reelection, which will extend his nearly quarter-century rule of Russia by another six years.

Putin’s landslide victory was widely criticized by Western leaders, who characterized the result as preordained in Russia’s repressive political system. The EU criticized the election as taking place in a “highly restricted environment exacerbated also by Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.”

“Russian authorities have continued to increase the systematic internal repression by cracking down on opposition politicians, civil society organisations, independent media and other critical voices with the use of repressive legislation and politically motivated prison sentences,” an EU statement said.

Orbán’s letter said that the cooperation between Hungary and Russia, “based on mutual respect, enables important discussions even in challenging geopolitical contexts.”

He also pointed out what he called Hungary’s “commitment to peace,” which has taken the form of repeated calls for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine without outlining what such a step would entail for that country’s territorial integrity.

Orbán’s government has taken a differing approach to the war in Ukraine from its EU and NATO allies since Russia began its full-scale invasion more than two years ago. Hungary has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons or allow their transfer across its borders, and has held up EU efforts to supply Ukraine with badly needed funding.

Hungary has also sought to deepen energy deals with Moscow even as other countries in Europe have decreased their dependency on Russian fossil fuels. Orbán’s approach has led to significant tensions with Ukraine’s government and with his partners in the EU.

Speaking in an interview with Hungarian public radio from Brussels on Friday, Orbán accused EU leaders of taking an increasingly active role in the conflict in Ukraine, something he predicted would be a key issue in the bloc’s elections this summer.

“The leaders speak as if they are fighting their own war against Russia. Not like us who say, ‘Look, this is a war between Russia and Ukraine. This is not our war,’” Orbán said. “We are not at war with Russia, they are at war, and they even speak as if Russia must be defeated.”

On Thursday, Hungary refused to support a Czech-led effort to acquire ammunition that Ukraine badly needs from third countries outside the EU.

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