Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called the United States the main adversary of his right-wing political party during a meeting with associates, a move that could lead to further friction between Washington and Budapest, according to a CIA assessment in a US document. which was among those recently leaked and posted online.
Orban allegedly made the comment during a «political strategy session» on February 22, the leaked document says, citing the US Embassy in Budapest. The CIA said the inclusion of the United States in the «list of Orban’s top three adversaries constitutes an escalation of the level of anti-American rhetoric in his speech,» according to the document.
Relations between the US and NATO member Hungary are already strained due to Orban’s strengthening ties with Russia and China.
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry and the US Embassy in Budapest did not respond to requests for comment. The CIA, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have declined to comment on any of the intelligence reports described in the leaked documents.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the leaked document that revealed Orban’s alleged move to characterize the United States as an adversary.
The article is among dozens of documents NBC News obtained after an apparent Pentagon leak that is currently under investigation by the Defense and Justice departments. The dozens of pages that were posted online appear to «contain highly classified and confidential material,» though some may have been doctored, Pentagon spokesman Chris Meagher said Monday.
The United States and Hungary have enjoyed close ties since the end of the Cold War. But under Orban, Hungary delayed Finland’s NATO membership and continues to delay Sweden’s membership. Hungary is also a member of the European Union, but as the rest of Europe has reduced its consumption of Russian oil, Hungary has pressured the EU to refrain from this effort.
The EU declared in a parliamentary resolution last year that Hungary had become «a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy» under Orban, criticizing him for promoting anti-democratic values.
President Joe Biden has appointed David Pressman, a human rights lawyer who is gay, to serve as the US ambassador to Hungary, despite the strong anti-LGBTQ+ stance of Orban’s nationalist party.
Pressman, who has become a target of the Hungarian media and the Orban government, has not shied away from criticizing growing anti-American sentiment in Hungary. The embassy published a video quiz to Twitter asking people to guess if the quotes came from Orban and his supporters or from Putin. (Putin was never a correct answer.)
A central issue between the United States and Hungary is the war in Ukraine, where Hungary has taken an ambivalent stance. While condemning the invasion, Orban and his government have refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin. They have also called for an immediate ceasefire.
Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas on Wednesday accused the US embassy of building public support for changing the government’s position on Ukraine and Russia, according to a series of posts tweeted by Hungary spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.
Gulyas said the United States «has not given up on trying to squeeze HU [Hungary] in the pro-war position shared by many of our allies, but HU remains convinced that peace is the only common interest,» according to the series of tweets.
«There is no alliance, diplomatic or even friendly pressure that Hungary will not resist,» he added.
Orban considers himself more aligned with former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, which Hungarian officials have openly discussed in interviews. Orban even recently tweeted his support for Trump in the 2024 presidential election.
Hungary’s ties with China and Russia have continued to grow. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto traveled to Moscow this week to negotiate a new deal with the Russian-controlled oil company Gazprom, announcing a deal on Tuesday. Szijjarto also shared that China was Hungary’s biggest investor in 2022, though he did not provide specific data on financial transactions.
The US Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Wednesday that could affect Hungary. The agency said it had turned to the International Investment Bank, a Russian-controlled financial institution in Budapest.
The bank’s «presence in Budapest allows Russia to increase its intelligence presence in Europe, opens the door for the Kremlin’s malign influence activities in Central Europe and the Western Balkans, and could serve as a mechanism for corruption and illicit finance.» including sanctions violations.» The Treasury Department said in a statement that also said it would penalize Hungarian national Imre Laszlocki, vice chairman of the bank’s board.
Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic ended their ties with the International Investment Bank after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, according to the Treasury statement.
Pressman discussed the sanctions at a news conference on Wednesday at the embassy in Budapest, according to Reuters. The ambassador stressed that Hungary was a close ally, but said the United States is «concerned about Hungarian leaders seeking ever closer ties with Russia.»
“With this announcement,” he said, “the United States is demonstrating that we will take action in response to the Hungarian elections and to curb the access of Russia and sanctioned Russian individuals to the international financial system.”