By Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will not send any weapons to Ukraine and will stay out of the war, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a rally of his supporters on Tuesday, accusing the opposition of trying to drag Hungary into the conflict on its eastern border.
The conservative nationalist leader has a tight race for election to a fourth consecutive term on April 3 because for the first time since 2010 his right-wing Fidesz party will face a united front of six opposition parties.
Orban’s path to re-election is complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has put his decade-long close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a new light, drawing sharp criticism from the opposition.
Addressing a rally of tens of thousands of supporters who waved the Hungarian national flag in front of parliament, Orban said Central Europe was only a “chess board” for big powers and if Hungary did not stand up for its interests, it could easily fall victim of the crisis.
“Russia looks at Russian interests, while Ukraine looks at Ukrainian interests. Neither the United States, nor Brussels would think with Hungarians’ mind and feel with Hungarians’ hearts. We must stand up for our own interests,” Orban said.
“We must stay out of this war … therefore we will not send any troops or weapons to the battlegrounds.”
Orban said the choice for voters on April 3 will be between his party that wants peace and the leftist opposition “which would stagger into a ruthless, protracted and bloody war.”
The six-party opposition, led by Peter Marki-Zay, a small-town mayor and father of seven, has sharply criticised Orban’s relations with Russia, saying Orban had built an illiberal state along Putin’s model, with rampant corruption and curbs on media freedoms. The government denies the allegations.
Speaking to an opposition rally by the Danube river, Marki-Zay, who has campaigned on a strongly pro-European platform, said Hungarians’ choice has never been this easy in elections.
“We only have one choice: we must choose Europe instead of the east … and freedom instead of authoritarianism,” he said, with supporters chanting “Europa, Europa.”
Referring to European Union concerns about a decline in democratic standards in Hungary, Marki-Zay has said Orban’s “unlimited power has resulted in unlimited corruption” while millions of Hungarians struggle to make ends meet.
Fidesz slightly widened its lead in a late February opinion poll by Median to 39% compared with 32% for the opposition bloc.
Orban has condemned the Russian invasion and has said Budapest would not veto EU sanctions agreed against Russia but that these must not affect Hungary’s energy supplies.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)