Hungary’s Orban claims he can keep nation out of Ukraine war

SZEKESFEHERVAR, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s nationalist prime minister on Friday portrayed his country’s upcoming election as an existential turning point and a choice between war and peace as he made a final appeal to voters at a campaign rally in a rural stronghold.

Viktor Orban, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term as the head of Hungary’s government, has campaigned on the promise that if re-elected in Hungary’s parliamentary election Sunday, he will protect the country’s peace and security and maintain Russian energy imports as war rages in neighboring Ukraine.

Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party is facing what polls suggest will be the closest election in more than a decade.

“This isn’t our war, we have to stay out of it,” Orban said Friday to hundreds of supporters in the central Hungarian city of Szekesfehervar. “We can stay out by not sending soldiers or weapons, and not allowing arms shipments through Hungary’s territory, because then we’ll immediately become a military target.”

Alone among Ukraine’s neighbors in the European Union, Hungary has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons and has forbid their transit across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, arguing that doing so would draw the country into the conflict.

While Orban has condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine, he has been careful not to place responsibility for the conflict on Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he has forged close relations since taking office in 2010. He has also fought vehemently against sanctioning Russian fossil fuels, upon which Hungary is very dependent. Last week, Orban noted that 85% of Hungary’s gas and more than 60% of its oil comes from Russia.

At the rally in Szekesfehervar, Orban repeated an unsubstantiated claim that a six-party coalition that united to run against him Sunday had made a secret pact with the Ukrainian government, and that his opponents would cut off Russian oil and gas if elected — something the coalition has denied.

The opposition coalition, United For Hungary, has coordinated its candidates in each of Hungary’s 106 voting districts, and nominated independent conservative Peter Marki-Zay to face Orban as its candidate for prime minister.

The opposition parties, which previously campaigned on a promise to do away with what they call widespread corruption and democratic backsliding under Orban, have asked voters to punish the autocratic prime minister for his close relations with Putin. The war in Ukraine has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing into Hungary seeking safety.

The opposition has portrayed Sunday’s election as a referendum on whether Hungary will belong to a league of Western democracies or return to its historical past as a repressive, Russian-dominated autocracy.

For his part, Orban painted a dark picture Friday of the possible dire economic repercussions that could occur if Hungary’s ties with Russia were cut.

“If we sanction energy imports and they shut down the pipelines, then Hungary won’t be just colder, the temperature won’t go down one or two degrees, but the country will shut down,” he said. “We’ll have to close the factories and many people — including you — will lose their jobs.”