Russia has long taken advantage of corrupt networks across Europe and Eurasia to reward businesses close to the Kremlin and build leverage with local political leaders. Moscow routinely promotes the interests of Russia-friendly politicians, bureaucrats, and business figures in neighboring states and uses Soviet-era ties with intelligence and military officials to further Russian political goals.
Hungary’s slide into illiberalism under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stoked tensions between Budapest and the European Union (EU). Hungary’s estrangement from the European mainstream has created opportunities for Russia to expand its economic and political influence in the country.
The Orbán government’s business dealings with Moscow have exacerbated frictions with the EU and key European countries such as Germany and France. Russian intelligence and security service operations in Hungary have also caused concern among its EU and NATO partners. Orbán is an important standard-bearer for anti-EU populist sentiment in Europe. His pro-Russian, anti-EU stance does face some resistance at home, however, as most Hungarians hold a positive view of the EU.