Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 205

Orban’s October 29 remarks would have been condemned by Moscow under any circumstances, but their delivery is especially inauspicious now. Tensions between Russia and NATO remain high in the aftermath of the alliance’s air war in Yugoslavia, while Russian-U.S. bilateral relations have grown acrimonious precisely over evolving U.S. arms control policies. Indeed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin chose this week to issue a broadside against the United States over its plans to deploy a national missile defense system, and the two countries have been unable to resolve sharp differences over the ABM treaty and a possible follow-up accord to the START II treaty.

But this week’s remarks by the Russian Foreign Ministry reflect long-standing tensions between Moscow and Budapest as well. Aside from Moscow’s more general opposition to Hungary’s entry–along with Poland and the Czech Republic–into NATO, the two countries have also clashed diplomatically on a bilateral basis. Moscow was particularly outraged over a decision by Hungary earlier this year which forbade the passage of Russian military aircraft over Hungarian territory. That decision, made by the Hungarian government at NATO’s behest, helped to stymie Russian efforts to reinforce the small group of paratroopers which had unexpectedly seized the airport near Pristina in Kosovo. More recently, this time at the behest of the European Union, Hungary briefly held up deliveries of Russian natural gas to Yugoslavia which passed through a pipeline transiting Hungary (Wall Street Journal, October 12).

The extent to which Russian-Hungarian relations have been affected by the latest wrangle will likely be revealed by the fate and outcome of a planned visit to Moscow by Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi scheduled to start on November 28. The visit was apparently scheduled during talks between Martonyi and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov at the UN in New York this past September as part of an effort by the two countries to “end arguments and move on” to improved relations (AP, October 31). Martonyi had originally been scheduled to visit Moscow this past spring, but the visit was scuttled on the basis of the military overflights row. Moscow’s reaction to Orban’s recent remarks suggests that the upcoming trip could meet the same fate.