- Hungary is vulnerable to Russian influence mostly because of its own domestic problems with emerging authoritarianism and freedom of the press.
- Russia is not perceived as a threat. Concerning the information space and media, the Hungarian government and intelligence are focused more on the topic of migration.
- The civil society is being prevented from pursuing the goal of countering Russian influence.
Relations with the Russian Federation
Government using Russia-card for domestic reasons. Negative historical experience with Russia, but the government uses relations with Moscow for domestic political or economic reasons, or as a tool against the EU establishment.
The attitude of Hungarian public to Russia is generally hostile and the country remains dedicated to NATO, not least due to their troubled past marked with Russian occupation during the Communist era. However, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban uses good relations with Russia as a leverage in Hungary's relations with Brussels and in order to support his own authoritarian policies. It is a pragmatic fit since the Kremlin is known to support Eurosceptic and autocratic elements of European politics. After the annexation of Crimea, the Prime Minister sought to weaken European sanctions against Russia. Also, the far-right Jobbik party inclines towards Moscow and promotes the Kremlin in the country, reportedly receiving Russian financial support.
Political acknowledgement of the threat
Since the Russian Federation is an important economic, trade and energy partner for Hungary, the strategic and policy documents of the country do not reflect the threats originating there, conventional or unconventional ones. The National Security Strategy from 2012 focuses on cyber security, stating that Hungary will have to face increasingly pressing and intricate challenges in the physical and virtual space of information technologies and the potential malicious use of these technologies by state and non-state actors.
Paradoxically, some sectors of the Hungarian government acknowledge hybrid warfare and disinformation but avoid mentioning Russia. Deputy Parliament speaker Csaba Hende (Fidesz) said on November 24, 2017, “Cyberspace has become one of the most significant battlegrounds, which provides an opportunity for major attacks from disrupting the decision-making processes of certain countries to attacks against critical infrastructure.” Curiously, he avoided mentioning Russia, which is the source of many cyberattacks against the West. Such ambiguity works in Russia’s favour and leaves the door open for further intelligence activities.
The government, in this case, goes against the pro-Western, pro-EU majority. The Warsaw Institute reports that “39% of Hungarians think that Hungary should exclusively be a part of the West, while only 5% supported the country’s Eastern affiliation. 53% put Hungary between the East and the West in a geopolitical and cultural sense.”
Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation
State organization which might potentially deal with cases of disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks connected to internal security is the Counter Terrorism Centre (TEK) established by Prime Minister Orban's government in 2010 within the Ministry of Interior. This SWAT agency specializes in counter-terrorism or hostage crisis, but its role is also in protecting the government and citizens.
In some cases, the government is more inclined to enable the spread of Russian influence and conduct disinformation campaigns, for example because of limiting the freedom of the press. Large portion of mainstream media in Hungary are under the control of the government, some of them using Russian quasi-media like Sputnik or RT as their sources. In certain instances, known Russian disinformation centres are welcomed, such as when Orban’s government allowed Debrecen University to establish a Russkiy Mir Center in April 2017, providing a EUR 50,000 grant. The Russkiy Mir Center is patronized by President Vladimir Putin and funds anti-European, anti-NATO groups across Europe, such as Bulgaria’s ATAKA party. The activities of civil society are openly unwelcome by the government. Indeed, the Warsaw Institute noted that following a similar Russian legislation, the Hungarian government passed a law on June 13, 2017 forcing all NGOs receiving “HUF 7.2 million (around EUR 23.000) from foreign entities, including funds received directly from the European Union’s institutions,” to register as foreign agents.
On the international level, Hungary considers units like the EEAS East STRATCOM Task Force or the NATO Stratcom CoE important, but with a limited influence. The country has no experts sent to any of them.
The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference
There are two intelligence services relevant in the case of dealing with subversive influence in Hungary. One of them is the Constitution Protection Office, which is an internal intelligence agency, and the second is the Information office, the civilian intelligence agency, involved primarily in non-military intelligence gathering operations abroad. But the members of these agencies are sometimes suspected of influencing or even threatening local Hungarian journalists. They are not known to be working in order to prevent the influence of foreign powers, with the exception of perhaps Islamic propaganda.
Activities of the non-governmental sector
The Political Capital, an organization focusing on policy research, is the most visible non-governmental institution trying to analyse and counter disinformation operations in Hungary. It often cooperates with other organizations mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and also with the EEAS East STRATCOM unit. Already in 2009 this think-tank warned about the pro-Russian attitudes of Eastern European far-right parties and in 2014 published a study revealing that the interests of the Kremlin were being furthered and incorporated into policy by far-right parties in Europe. The relations between Europe and the Russian Federation represent a significant part of their work, including the Russian efforts to gain influence through political, cultural lobbying and disinformation campaigns.
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