Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban Clears the Path for Finland to Join NATO, Surprising Some

One of the unique aspects of being a member of NATO is that every new member has to be approved by the other members. A negative vote can have the same result on an application as blackballing a pledge to a fraternity. As Finland was getting closer to submitting for NATO membership, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and his henchmen were more incoherent and shrill with their threats, many believed that Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, coming off as the major winner in the elections on April 3, might carry Putin's water and impede Finland from joining NATO–especially as Finland and Hungary have been engaged in heated debates, with Hungary accusing Finland of breaking the EU Charter. 

On Wednesday, March 13, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto called Viktor Orban to discuss Hungary’s support for a potential Finnish application to join NATO. And this week, Finland’s joining NATO appears to be in the bag.

Orban making it easier for Finland to join NATO is not among the most “Putin tool” things Orban could have done. This certainly wasn't on most of our bingo cards. Orban is not an official Putin tool or even a Putin friend. He's a political figure who knows which side of his bread is buttered.

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has placed Orban in a tense position. He seems to want to establish Hungary as an intermediary between West and East. Hungary is part of both the European Union and NATO. The country also has a cordial relationship with Russia. He has also complied with sanctions against Russia. He has been adamant about sanctions against Russian gas, even though Hungary relies on gas. He provides humanitarian aid to Ukraine and has sheltered around 140,000 Ukrainian refugees. He has backed Zelensky's demands that Russia respects Ukraine's territorial sovereignty. The only thing he will not do is ship weapons to Ukraine or let arms shipments to Ukraine travel through Hungary. It's more of an issue of appearances than anything else. However, Zelensky has accused Orban of hindering European solidarity. Zelensky is correct. But Orban is the premier of Hungary, not Europe, and the people who voted for him decided they wanted the situation to remain the same.

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