The Hungarian prime minister’s trip to Moscow could not have been of greater importance to the Russian regime. Its propaganda machine quickly got into high gear.


It was unprecedented for a meeting between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and a Western leader. RIA Novosti, a Kremlin-controlled media outlet, livestreamed the public part of Putin’s discussions with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, during the latter’s surprise trip to Moscow. The emphasis was on showing the friendly atmosphere between two dynamic leaders, suggesting that agile problem-solving was to be expected. They were shown expressing sorrow about the increasing difficulties for cooperation. This was in sharp contrast with the footage that Russia released last year of the two men in Beijing, when Orbán sat next to Putin, visibly nervous.

Russia’s propaganda goals were boosted by showing an EU head of government, parading as the representative of the whole union, breaking Putin’s isolation. This was useful in countering the image of Russia’s leader as a pariah wanted by the International Criminal Court. Orbán was even shown as thankful for being received and behaving as if it were business as usual.

The propaganda could also push the Kremlin narrative that the EU is divided and weak. With their coverage of Orbán’s visit, the main Russian news agencies provided the statements of key European figures who did not endorse the trip.

Orbán stressed that he seeks to convince Russia and Ukraine to “embark on a long journey which may end in a ceasefire and peace talks”. His saying that fewer and fewer countries can talk with “both parties” fit the Kremlin’s narrative of a Russophobic West. 

Russia’s propaganda also portrayed Orbán’s recent visit to Kyiv as the president of the Council of the EU as a peace mission. This, when the discussions were exclusively on bilateral issues, such as establishing of a Ukrainian school in Hungary and the reciprocal granting of rights to minorities.

Orbán did not take his pro-Russia foreign minister, Peter Szijjártó, to Ukraine. The hope that this was a positive gesture toward unfreezing relations between Budapest and Kyiv was quickly shattered, however. Hours after the visit, the Kremlin’s media announced that Szijjártó had called his Russian counterpart.

The only potential silver lining to Orbán’s Moscow jaunt, for what it is worth, is that he, and his interpreter, used the word “war” to describe events in Ukraine. The Hungarian prime minister previously stuck to Russia’s preferred—and domestically strictly enforced—phrase, “military operation”.