Sunday, September 25, 2022

Orbán's Warning for Europe

 From Compact:

At the ruling Fidesz party’s annual “picnic” last weekend in Kötcse, a village two hours’ drive southwest from the capital, the message was dire: The United States is driving its trans-Atlantic allies to ruin by globalizing a local, intra-Slavic conflict in Ukraine. And European leaders are going along, obstinately sticking with sanctions that have failed to force a rethink in Moscow, let alone “collapse” the Russian economy or trigger a palace coup against Vladimir Putin.

“Sanctions work when deployed by stronger actors against the weak,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told me as we sat down for a brief interview on the sidelines of the Kötcse conference. “Europe isn’t the stronger actor when it comes to energy. And so the sanctions aren’t working.” It seems like an obvious enough point, but these days, it takes the gruff rationality of the “black sheep” of the European family to voice the obvious.

Western leaders make-believe as if Moscow is some small-time Mideast “rogue regime,” which they can bring to heel by cutting it off from global trade and financial flows. There are only two problems. One is that this isn’t 1999 anymore: What Fareed Zakaria condescendingly called “the rise of the rest” means the rest of the world doesn’t salute when Washington and Brussels hand down sanctions diktats—“the rest” can afford to disobey.

The bigger problem is that Russia isn’t some small-time Mideast country, but a Eurasian civilization with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and most valuable energy reserves. Even in the case of those classic sanctioned “rogues,” Western embargoes have as often spurred autarkic internal development as caused pain to ordinary people. But in the case of Russian energy, the sanctions were always structurally bound to backfire against Europe.

“If someone believes you can beat Russia, and change things in Moscow, it is a pure mistake,” Orbán told his party’s grandees in Kötcse, speaking forthrightly about the war’s military endgame.

His attitude isn’t born of any deep love for Moscow—impossible, given half a century of Soviet occupation and the premier’s belief that Russian civilization is fundamentally different from Europe’s. Rather, it comes from the realism and cold rationality that Hungary’s historical and geographic circumstances have imposed on her.

Realism: The Russians have utterly confounded the energy sanctions’ intended effects, whether by selling their reserves to the Chinese, who then resell to the Europeans at a markup, or by simply selling less of the stuff at higher prices created by sanctions. In the event, the war and the sanctions have buoyed the ruble to historic highs. (Read more.)


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