The “Honest Spoiler”

Viktor Orbán is in Moscow. The timing is not coincidental.
July 05, 2024
3 min read
Photo credit: Alexandros Michailidis /
Hungary assumed just days ago the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Observers and analysts had long pondered what Europe can expect from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán while he leads one of the EU's most important decision-making bodies, a position in which he is expected to act as an honest broker. He has just provided a clear and unmistakable answer: disruption, instability and trolling. 

Orbán is traveling to Moscow on a snap visit that, according to media reports, was not coordinated with EU or NATO partners. In fact, travel plans were kept from them. 

This trip follows another unexpected visit to Kyiv. That journey raised hopes of a potential pro-Western turn in Budapest's notoriously pro-Kremlin foreign policy. The Moscow visit is being framed as an endeavor by Orbán to mediate Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, but no one sees the effort as sincere or legitimate.

Hungary’s Western partners are confronted instead with what GMF experts have previously identified as a potential threat: that Orbán might use and abuse the rotating EU presidency to sow confusion and cause significant symbolic damage to EU foreign policy while advancing the interests of Russia and the West’s other illiberal rivals.

According to the EU treaties, the government holding the rotating presidency does not represent the bloc in external affairs. Russian state media will nevertheless interpret and amplify Orbán's anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian narratives, and play him up as an authoritative EU actor.

Two explanations exist for Orbán's behavior. He could be trolling Hungary's Western partners at the beginning of his EU presidency to set a precedent for what is ahead in the next six months. Or he could have received from the Kremlin an offer that he could not refuse, one that is a reaction to Orbán's recent meeting in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. If it was this, the trip reveals the power Russia has over Orbán. Neither scenario, however, promises a smooth and constructive Hungarian presidency.

This fall’s international political calendar offers the Hungarian prime minister plenty of opportunities to continue ruffling feathers. Another snap visit, this one to Washington, DC, immediately after the US presidential election, could see Orbán congratulating Donald Trump on a victory, even as recounts may be underway. The same is possible after Georgia’s parliamentary election in October, when Orbán embraces a potentially disputed election victory of Georgian Dream, the ruling party that last year turned against the EU and integration into the West. 

Both trips would represent serious blows to the common EU and security policy. Brussels and other Western partners should be prepared for this possible trolling. They should put in place now, as Orbán traipses through Moscow, communications strategies to limit the damage from the EU's "honest spoiler".