Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Birds of a Feather: As Viktor Orbán’s Cronies Unload on President Trump, Orbán Sidles Up to President Putin
Birds of a Feather: As Viktor Orbán’s Cronies Unload on President Trump, Orbán Sidles Up to President Putin

Birds of a Feather: As Viktor Orbán’s Cronies Unload on President Trump, Orbán Sidles Up to President Putin

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán (Source:


The Hungarian proverb Madarat tolláról, embert barátjáról translates roughly as “You can tell a bird by its feathers, and a person by his friends.” If so, it says much about Hungarian President Viktor Orbán.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked during a 12 April interview with Russia’s MIR television and radio network whether “relations deteriorated with Trump in office from what they were under his predecessor?” He answered, “We could say that at the working level, the degree of trust has dropped, especially in the military area. It has not improved and has probably worsened.”[1] Mr. Putin premised this appraisal with an extended dissemble about “several versions” about “the chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province, which led to the US air strike on a Syrian air base:”

There are several version, two of which I consider as priorities. The first is that the Syrian bombs hit a secret chemical weapons facility. This is quite possible, considering that the terrorists have used chemical weapons many times, and nobody has contested this fact . . . According to the second version, it was a staged provocation, a deliberate incident designed to create a pretext for increasing pressure on the legitimate Syrian authorities. That is all.[2]

Mr. Orbán has been, to say the least, restrained in his condemnation of Russian support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. That being said, the suggestion that any NATO ally’s leadership circle would parrot such a risibly false Russian narrative as this one would invite quick and forceful pushback. Except, comes the inevitable rejoinder, within the odd constellation around Mr. Orbán.

One “star” in that constellation is István Lovas. He is a Magyar Idők[3] foreign policy commentator and tireless re-poster of articles (on his personal blog), many of which are drawn from the Russian government-controlled media portals Russia Today and Sputnik. He wrote recently in another Fidesz-favoring newspaper, Magyar Hírlap:

Don’t accuse yourself of being naïve for thinking Trump would do what he promised during the campaign. . . . Everyone knows the value of campaign promises, but there are limits. . . . Naiveté is not an accusation one can level at Russian intelligence services, which obviously were very thorough in gathering information about Trump, like every other self-respecting intelligence agency or diplomatic mission. This information relieved and reassured Russia about a Trump presidency, in the hopeful expectation that he would alleviate tensions between the countries.[4]

Mr. Trump “is not Putin’s lapdog,” he avers, even though “the mainstream news media hourly hammers into its rather gullible viewers that the US president is the Kremlin’s servant.”[5] However, Mr. Trump “unlike Ronald Reagan”

has shown himself unable to resist a Washington ‘establishment’ comprised of the military industrial complex, the mainstream media, former government officials, neo-conservative opinion leaders, the pro-Israel lobby, and special interest campaign contributors.[6]

The demonstration of this “came on Thursday night [April 6], when Trump ordered an attack with 59 Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian airbase near Homs, having accused President Assad of carrying out a poison gas attack against his own people.” Declaring, “the US attacks had civilian victims as well,” Mr. Lovas asked whether the “evidence about a poison gas attack . . . consisted of the same intelligence that made up stories of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the Baghdad dictator’s alleged links to terrorists, resulting in the country’s ruination and the unnecessary death of nearly a million Iraqis.”[7] Mr. Lovas accused President Trump of “violating international law” and “breaching the US Constitution by failing to give Congress advance notice of the operation.” He goes further:

Some US media have had the courage to report on the one hand that there is no sign that President [Trump] has sold his shares in the huge US defense contractor Raytheon, which manufactures the Tomahawk missile; and on the other, that the missiles fired the other day will create hundreds of millions of dollars in new orders for Raytheon, whose stock price soared on Friday.[8]

Thus “a new star, Donald Trump, is born.”

A single massive missile strike, and the President who once ‘terrified’ the establishment and its dupes becomes the hope of the world. The man once said to embody ‘the darkest period of our history’ is now suddenly lost to us.[9]

On the same day, Mr. Lovas offered a less full-throated defense of Russian collusion with the murderous Assad regime in Magyar Idők, stating (strictly correct but lacking any context), “Russia called for a UN investigation of what happened.”[10] Responding to United States Ambassador Nikki Haley’s comment[11] during an interview with CNN correspondent Jamie Gangel, Mr. Lovas wrote snarkily, “Well, we can add, that’s more evidence than what American intelligence falsified before the Iraq invasion,” adding about the American Tomahawk strike, “And unexpectedly now may be lost to us.”[12]

Mr. Lovas is an equal opportunity apologist when it comes to Syria. Praising Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s “generous and reasonable offer for the West, which could significantly reduce the flood of migrants to Europe,” he asked (presumably rhetorically) in mid 2016:

Why would continuing Assad’s rule be a great tragedy for the West? Because the West cannot tolerate a situation in which a Middle Eastern country is not governed democratically? Like Iraq, which was destroyed by spreading false intelligence, killing more than a million (and not 160 thousand) people, and making millions more homeless?[13]

Perhaps the best appraisal of Mr. Lovas came in a short, pithy commentary written by László Szily in September 2014:

István Lovas lost his job as a Magyar Nemzet Brussels correspondent, and his job search has chosen an unorthodox path. . . . He just asked Putin in an open letter to start broadcasting in Hungarian on the Russian propaganda mouthpiece called Russia Today. . . . Who can say what he’ll do when he learns there’s a vacancy on Syrian government television?[14]

Where does this leave Mr. Orbán? Mr. Lovas and others say things about Hungary’s allies that Mr. Orbán (no stranger to inflammatory rhetoric) chooses not to say directly. This is part of a general pattern, as Florian Eder suggests, that involves Mr. Orbán “test[ing] the boundaries of what is tolerable” for his political partners and “looking for a test of power with Brussels,” one which European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker seems increasingly inclined to give him.[15]

That being said, Mr. Orbán’s affinity for Mr. Putin remains puzzling. Dalibor Rohac avers in a recent commentary that “Hungary is turning into Russia” and that “Orbán mimics Putin.”[16] The latter seems fairer than the former. A more nuanced view comes from the political commentator György Farkas. “Orbán is the greatest national security threat,” (Orbán a legnagyobb nemzetbiztonsági kockázat), not because Mr. Putin can be said in any fair sense to “control” Mr. Orbán, but rather because “autocrats do each other favors.”[17] Gergely Brückner puts it this way:

Orbán certainly respects Putin for having achieved what he himself seeks: the power to act autonomously. I don’t think Orbán is Putin’s puppet, since Orbán is no one’s lapdog. Orbán likely thinks himself a brilliant geopolitical strategist, one who created space to maneuver between Moscow and Brussels, and who will implant around Europe what he’s developed in his little Hungarian laboratory.[18]

Perhaps the most sobering assessment comes from Attila Ara-Kovács, who directs foreign policy for Hungary’s center-left opposition party Demokratikus Koalíció (“Democratic Coalition” aka “DK”). He writes, “Orbán is not just a black sheep in the EU but also a man who brings shame to Hungary.”[19] One suspects President Trump welcomes all expressions of disappointment coming out of Mr. Orbán’s constellation of black sheep, to mix a metaphor.


[1] President of Russia (2017). “Interview to Mir broadcasting company.” [published in English 12 April 2017]. Last accessed 12 April 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Magyar Idők (“Hungarian Times”) is a daily newspaper, the editorial posture of which favors the Fidesz government of President Viktor Orbán.

[4] István Lovas (2017). “Trump nem Putyinpincsi.” Magyar Hírlap [published online in Hungarian 12 April 2017]. Last accessed 12 April 2017.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid..

[7] István Lovas (2017). “Trump nem Putyinpincsi.” Magyar Hírlap [published online in Hungarian 12 April 2017]. Last accessed 12 April 2017.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid..

[10] István Lovas (2017). “A Fehér Ház Oroszországot a Szíriai Vegyi Támadás Elpalástolásával Vádolja.” Magyar Idők, [published online in Hungarian 12 April 2017]. Last accessed 12 April 2017.

[11] Ambassador Haley said “I think that if you look at the fact that when this information came out, they were so quick to defend,” Haley said. “They didn’t look shocked, they didn’t look surprised. They were so quick to defend. And then the evidence comes out and we see exactly what it is.” Theodore Schliefer (2017). “Haley says Russia is ‘nervous’ and an ‘island’ after Assad attach.” CNN [published online 12 April 2017]. Last accessed 12 April 2017.

[12] Lovas (2017), Magyar Idők, op cit.

[13] István Lovas (2016). “Assad elnök rendkívüli ajánlata Európa megmentésére.” [published online in Hungarian 13 June 2016]. Last accessed 12 April 2017.

[14] László Szily (2014). “​Nyílt levélben kért állást Putyintól Lovas István.” [published online in Hungarian 22 September 2014]. Last accessed 12 April 2017.

[15] Florian Eder (2017). “Juncker gegen Orbán.” [published online in German 13 April 2017]. Last accessed 13 April 2017.

[16] Dalibor Rohac (2017). “Hungary is turning into Russia.” Foreign Affairs [published online 12 April 2017]. Last accessed 13 April 2017.

[17] György Farkas (2017). “Orbán a legnagyobb nemzetbiztonsági kockázat.” [published online in Hungarian 12 April 2017]. Last accessed 13 April 2017.

[18] Gergely Brückner (2014). “Orbán fejében a CEU testesít meg mindent, ami ellen harcolni kell.” [published in Hungarian 9 April 2017]. Last accessed 13 April 2017.

[19] “Putyint nem érdekli, hogy mi történt Szíriában – Orbán elvtársa tömeges gyerekgyilkossságot menteget.” [published online in Hungarian 13 April 2017]. Last accessed 13 April 2017.