BUDAPEST (Dispatches) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday raised the specter of an “era of recession” in Europe as the continent grapples with surging energy costs and rising inflation due to the war in Ukraine.
Orban, taking his oath of office after being elected in April for a fourth consecutive term, took a typically bullish line towards Brussels, telling parliament it was “abusing its power day by day” by pushing back member states’ sovereignty.
Hungary, with a few other member states, has so far rejected the EU’s proposed current sanctions on Russian oil. Budapest says it wants hundreds of millions of euros from the bloc to mitigate the cost of ditching Russian crude. The EU needs all 27 states to agree to the embargo for it to go ahead.
He said the most important task of his new government would be to steer Hungary’s economy through a European economic crisis, defending the tax breaks and benefits granted to families and defending households’ capped energy bills.
“The war and the European policy of sanctions given in response, has created an energy crisis,” Orban said.
“The energy crisis, and the interest rate hikes in the United States have jointly brought about the era of high inflation. All this will bring about the era of recession, when a decline in economic output, stagnation and years of slight increases in output will follow each other in Europe.”
Orban has repeatedly clashed with the EU over policies. He projected the war in neighboring Ukraine would “last for a long time ... and will pose a permanent security threat to Hungary”.
He said the National Bank of Hungary and the government would have to coordinate steps to curb inflation.
“We will sync these steps ... we will take cautious but firm measures to regulate prices,” Orban said in a speech. His government has already capped fuel prices, basic foodstuffs and mortgage rates, as well as households’ energy bills.
Putin Sees Not Threat From NATO Expansion
President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that there was no threat to Russia if Sweden and Finland joined NATO but cautioned that Moscow would respond if the U.S.-led alliance bolstered military infrastructure in the new Nordic members.
Putin made an unusually calm response to Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, the biggest strategic consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to date.
“As to enlargement, Russia has no problem with these states - none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion (of NATO) to include these countries,” Putin told the leaders of a Russian-dominated military alliance of former Soviet states.
Putin, though, laced his newly found tranquility on NATO with a warning.
“But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response,” Putin said.
“What that (response) will be - we will see what threats are created for us,” Putin told the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The Kremlin chief’s remarkably serene response to one of Russia’s most sensitive geopolitical worries - the post-Soviet enlargement of NATO - contrasted to some tougher language from his foreign ministry and senior allies.
Before Putin spoke, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the West should have no illusions that Moscow would simply put up with the Nordic expansion of NATO. Those comments were still being played up on state television.
One of Putin’s closest allies, former President Dmitry Medvedev, said last month that Russia could deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad if Finland and Sweden joined NATO.
Speaking in the Grand Kremlin Palace, Putin read a short speech that touched on NATO and scolded the United States for creating biological laboratories in the former Soviet Union.
Putin said Russia had evidence that the United States had been trying to create components of biological weapons in Ukraine, a claim Washington and Kyiv have denied.
Besides NATO’s “endless expansion policy”, Putin said the alliance was reaching far beyond its Euro-Atlantic remit - a trend he said that Russia was following carefully.
Moscow says NATO threatens Russia and that Washington has repeatedly ignored the Kremlin’s concerns about the security of its borders in the West, the source of two devastating European invasions in 1812 and 1941.
Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia through NATO enlargement and Moscow had to defend against the persecution of Russian-speaking people.
Putin says assurances were given as the Soviet Union collapsed that the alliance would not expand eastwards toward Russia, a promise he says was a lie.
The West says NATO - an alliance of 30 countries including former Warsaw Pact republics such as Poland and Hungary as well as nuclear powers such as the United States, Britain and France - is purely defensive.