Central Europe ‘vulnerable’ to foreign meddling: report
The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are “particularly vulnerable” to influence from Russia, China and Turkey, according to a report by Political Capital, a Hungarian think-tank, and the Prague Security Studies Institute.
The study said Russia had a “vested interest in weakening European integration” and used its intelligence agencies to support anti-Nato and Eurosceptic sentiment and backed political figures who were pro-Moscow.
China was focusing on economic soft power in the region and Turkey’s role was “generally restricted to the cultural level”, the report added.
“Authoritarian regimes have the easiest task in Hungary [with its] openly pro-eastern foreign policy, seeking to become a ‘bridgehead’ between the east and west, [which] leaves the door wide open to authoritarian influence over the country,” the study said.
Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party is now reportedly considering leaving the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) within the European Parliament.
Fidesz is considering joining Poland’s populist Law and Justice party (PiS) in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) bloc, according to a Fidesz source. Orban could apparently play a leading role in the ECR.
Fidesz was suspended from the EPP in March 2019 over criticism of his rule-of-law reforms. Its 13 MEPs remain part of the EPP at the European Parliament.
“We cannot compromise on democracy, rule of law, freedom of press, academic freedom or minorities rights,” the then-EPP leader Joseph Daul said of the suspension of Fidesz. “Anti-EU rhetoric is unacceptable. The divergences between EPP and Fidesz must cease.”
Former European Council president, Donald Tusk, also an ex-Polish prime minister, will replace Daul. He is expected to make a recommendation to the EPP on the future of Fidesz in the coming weeks. The EPP is expected to discuss the Hungarian populist party’s membership in early February.
The Russian-backed International Investment Bank (IIB), which has been called a “Russian intelligence hub”, recently moved from Moscow to Budapest. The European office of the Turkic Council has also opened in Budapest to lobby for the interests of Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Orban was the only EU leader who supported the recent Turkish military offensive into northern Syria.
The Czech president, Milos Zeman, and Orban oppose EU sanctions against Russia imposed since the seizure of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
“Pro-Kremlin portals are all highly active in spreading pro-Russian narratives to the populations, and most of them support pro-China positions as well,” the report said.
It said Hungarian pro-Russian and Chinese disinformation was being spread by the government-controlled media, making foreign manipulation campaigns “unnecessary”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds talks with Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban. Picture credit: Kremlin