Rising Russian Intelligence Activity in Hungary

Although Hungary is a member of both the EU and NATO, since 2004 and 1999 respectively, it plays an ambivalent role currently, as Fidesz, a Euroskeptic, national-conservative party, has displayed certain admiration for Putinism, with which it has some ideological affinity. Moreover, Orbán’s government, which has soured on much of the European project, has sought unusually close economic ties with Putin’s Russia that promise to have long-term political impacts.

Perhaps most ominously, Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, which took an astonishing twenty-one percent of the vote in last month’s national elections, despite – or perhaps because of – its vehemently xenophobic and anti-Western policies, makes no effort to disguise its admiration for Putin. Jobbik regurgitates Kremlin propaganda regularly, including about Ukraine, and the affinity may be more than merely ideological. It’s been an open secret in European security circles that Jobbik appears to be on the payroll of Russian intelligence, an allegation that has appeared several times in quasi-respectable media over the years, as the party has risen from the paramilitary anti-Semitic fringe to nationwide prominence in Hungary. (Jobbik is equally pro-Tehran, and there are persistent rumors that it takes money from Iranian intelligence too.)

Not surprisingly, such secret Russian interference in Hungarian politics has been a source of concern to the country’s security services for some time. Today’s Budapest daily Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation) has a story, entitled “Increasing activity of Russian intelligence agents,” that elaborates the counterintelligence worries of Hungary’s military during the Ukraine crisis. In recent months, Hungarian security services have observed a noticeable uptick in Russian espionage inside the county, by both the civilian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), aimed at purloining NATO secrets as Hungary finds itself an Alliance frontline state in the Ukraine crisis.