Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 205

Amid worsening recriminations between Russia and the United States on a host of arms control issues, Moscow this week turned its ire on Hungary for suggesting that it might be willing to deploy nuclear weapons on its territory. The object of Moscow’s criticism was a news report published by Canada’s Globe and Mail on October 29. In it, visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was quoted as saying that NATO must retain its nuclear arsenal “because of uncertainties about the future of Russia.” Orban followed that comment with the remark that, although “the Hungarian people might not be happy about it… his government would consider allowing the United States to deploy nuclear weapons” in Hungary “during a crisis.” If that were not enough to raise temperatures in Moscow, Orban also spoke of “ominous political forces in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia which would like to recreate a broad alliance which could pose a threat” to Hungary. “We desperately need an independent Ukraine,” Orban said. “We do not want to be a border country to a Soviet Union, or a Russia” (Globe and Mail, October 29).

In an effort at clarification, Orban told a Hungarian daily on October 30 that he had in fact spoken of stationing NATO nuclear weapons in Hungary, not U.S. weapons as had been reported. On November 2, he explained to a different Hungarian newspaper that there is “no crisis situation at present which would justify” any request by Hungary for the stationing of nuclear arms on its territory. He said that the topic of nuclear weapons arose during his visit to Canada only “because in Canada there is a debate about the future of NATO’s nuclear arsenal.” A Hungarian government spokesman said on November 2 that Orban’s remarks had been misconstrued both within Hungary and abroad. He underlined that Orban had been referring only to a possible “crisis situation” and said that the Hungarian government would merely “consider the matter” of nuclear weapons deployment under such circumstances (AP, November 2; Itar-Tass, November 3).

Despite the clarifications, Moscow’s response was predictably harsh. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said yesterday that Orban’s references to the stationing of nuclear weapons on Hungarian territory had “aroused bewilderment and serious concern in Moscow.” Rakhmanin added that the Hungarian prime minister’s remarks on this score also constituted a “straightforward breach of the spirit and letter of the Founding Act on relations, cooperation and security between Russia and NATO.” He charged that Orban’s remarks called into question numerous assurances from Hungary that its admission into NATO poses no threat to Russia’s security and said that they “directly confirm Russia’s concerns relating to NATO enlargement.” He appeared also to call on the NATO leadership to disown Orban’s remarks. In addressing Orban’s warnings of a possible alliance between Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, Rakhmanin said that Orban’s words had been “totally inappropriate and incorrect and, linked with the deployment of nuclear arms, simply dangerous” (Reuters, November 3).

Rakhmanin’s charge that Orban’s remarks constituted a breach of the NATO-Russia Founding Act is based on a passage in the 1997 document. It states that “the member states of NATO reiterate that they have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, nor any need to change any aspects of NATO’s nuclear posture or nuclear policy—and do not foresee any future need to do so.” The statement is not a direct pledge, however, and presumably would not necessarily apply during certain types of “crisis” situations, as Orban suggested.