Should the V4 countries be afraid of the growing Russian and Chinese influence?

István Gyermati, a foreign and security policy expert, talks about the importance of Mike Pompeo’s trip to Budapest, border protection and Russia.

editor: REMIX NEWS

Mike Pompeo’s trip to Budapest was a “historic visit,” Zoltán Kovács said. I wish you a good evening. According to the State Secretary for International Communication and Relations, the United States has previously been inclined to forget about Central Europe and to leave this area behind. The American secretary of state visited Hungary first during his Central European journey and announced the expansion of US trade, diplomatic, and cultural relations. We are discussing the reasons and the expected developments with my guest today, István Gyermati, a foreign and security policy expert. Good evening.

Good evening.

A very short question at the beginning. For whom was this meeting more important and useful: the United States or Hungary?

I think for both of them. Which is interesting, because if we say that the visit was important to both the giant and the small country, it means that the visit must have included some interesting and special elements. And, that is the case here, especially if we consider what we can expect from the visit.

We are going to discuss the details in a moment, but, before that, let us recall what the US Foreign Minister said here in Hungary.

You know, the US has been too far away from Central Europe recently. This is unacceptable. The gap that we created was filled by our competitors. Today, we are reaffirming our commitment and we will compete for the region. We will do this through the renewed diplomatic relations. This means strategic cooperation, which also allows us to honestly discuss issues that we do not agree on with our allies. We will achieve this goal by expanding US commercial, diplomatic, and cultural relations.

The thoughts we have just heard mean that the US has taken it for granted that Central Europe does whatever the US says and complies with the conditions that the US dictates, and that time has passed and now they have to realize that some rivals have appeared in the Central European region.

To answer this question, I think we have to go back to the Obama period. Back then, the Americans thought—and this was strongly expressed in politics as well —that this area, and Europe in general, had already being taken care of. Everything is fine. There is no need to do anything. Here, democracy and cooperation with America are raging. There is NATO, the European Union, and so on. Then they realized that this was not the case. To mention just one item, my generation still remembers the tremendous role that the United States played during the Cold War to keep Europe and Central Europe—although we were on the other side formally—safe. There was no war, and then the region was freed from communist oppression. Young generations no longer remember this, which is natural. I do not mean it as a reproach. And, for them, the United States is just another superpower like the rest, and superpowers are not pleasant in general. But, the image of America should be preserved and they have forgotten that.

To what extent has this image become eroded?

To a great extent. I think the Americans, on the one hand, neglected the area, and, on the other hand, they did some things that the region didn’t like very much. For example, we are still arguing about whether the Iraq intervention was right or wrong. And, obviously, those who are America’s opponents have been pushing into this area. It is mainly Russia, and Russia’s policy has significantly changed in this decade anyway. So, the Americans neglected the region, and the Russians began to concentrate on this area.

We will discuss this later in more detail. Going back to the V4, what is the relationship between the Visegrád countries, not only Hungary, and the United States? There is always a big challenge of how to create a balance between the West and Eastern Europe that is acceptable for all the parties.

The Americans have not noticed for a long time that the Visegrád 4 exists, that these four small countries are here. So far, Poland has been important to them. Then, a non-V4 country, Romania, came in the picture. So, these two countries have been strategically and militarily important for America. They didn’t really deal with the Visegrád 4. We don’t remember that the American president invited the leaders of the Visegrád 4 to Washington.

He spoke little about this region and Hungary.

I don’t even remember him mentioning the Visegrád countries. But, the Visegrád countries have become stronger for all sorts of reasons and have become an important factor in the region. And, the Americans noticed that there is not only Poland and Romania, but there are others who are very important. To mention just one issue, America does not have a more important ally in Europe concerning the Middle East and Israeli politics than the V4. And, the Visegrád 4 are going to Israel right now, and the Israeli prime minister will take time in the middle of his election campaign to meet the V4 leaders. This should be noticed.

This event is very important. What can we expect from this meeting?

I think that the meeting itself is very important.

But, it’s not just symbolically important.

In diplomacy, symbolism is of immense importance. If I were American or if I were the Israeli prime minister—fortunately I am not—then I would try to discuss with the V4 that the four of us should transfer our embassies to Jerusalem. Our prime minister said that he did not really want to do it alone, which is perfectly understandable. But, I think it would be quite understandable and normal for the Visegrád 4 to do it together, and it would not be very easy for anyone who dislikes it to protest against it.

Let’s turn to economic issues. It is obviously important for Hungary, but from this meeting it seems that it is important for America as well, to develop economic relations—which have been pretty good even previously—between the two countries.

The specific situation is that, unlike China, this area does not have an industry that causes unemployment in the United States, so the US does not really have a commercial war with us. Let me note that the USA does not really have a commercial war with the EU either, because the American war on trade with the European Union is mainly about Germany. So, there is no such problem with us, and they can safely develop economic relations here. Trump’s slogans of “America first” and “bring production back to America” do not apply to this area.

However, from an economic point of view, certain conflicts arise in relation to defense expenses. One can hear that America has not received any orders from the Zrínyi 2026, and they are somewhat deplored about that. The question is whether it can change in the future. This is not only about security issues, but about material issues as well.

It has to be mentioned that American diplomacy has been about economic relations, the representation of American economic interests, for a very long time, just as much as about the representation of other political interests. Now, in the Trump period, I think it is getting stronger, understandably. From the lively, strong US economic relations, the element has been lacking so far to get something from the US military industry, but it seems that now it is being replaced.

What can economic actors expect? In which areas can this cooperation be expanded?

In all areas that are of interest to America and Hungary, starting from the defense industry. Of course, this is a big cliché. I think we need to focus on expanding our technical and technological cooperation with the United States, because both sides need it. It is no longer true that America does not have a rival in technology, because today China has overcome the Americans in artificial intelligence research. In this area, America really needs to have brain capacities. And, they don’t have to do it with brain drain—they could bring the research here.

In addition to economics, which is closely related to defense systems and defense spending, if we look at ideology, then now it seems that Hungary can set an example for the US. For example, in terms of border protection, the fence was a positive example that was publicly appraised not so long ago and was mentioned as an example to others.

There are many more questions in which cooperation can be much more powerful than it was before.

For example, is migration a good example?

Well, migration is, in principle, a good example, but in practice, migration in America is different than in Hungary. But, the fact that the Americans are not protesting loudly against about what Hungary and the V4 countries are doing in this area is a good thing. And, we can find areas where we can work together. I have a lot of ideas on how to improve border protection. From drones to equestrian soldiers it’s all conceivable. And then, at what level and in what area we can coordinate and cooperate with the Americans, this is another question.

Another question is, how much money the parties are willing to spend.

Yes, but now it seems that America, or the American government at least, is willing to spend money on it, but Congress is not so much yet. And, we are willing to as well.

To what extent can the conflicts between the two countries, such as the CEU issue, weaken the good relations between the two countries? Everyone is saying that this was a historic visit. Zoltán Kovács, the government’s spokesman, even said that a new era begins. So, how could this new era be damaged by such conflicts? And, this is just the Hungarian case, but there are some problems among the other Visegrád countries that need clarification.

Democratic countries are always arguing with each other. One of the essences of democracy is debate, both internally and externally. The fact that two democratic countries are arguing with each other and disagreeing is a perfectly normal thing. And, debate is not done by shouting at each one another in the press, but by sitting down and discussing the issue, and it always results in something. The worst—or the best—scenario is saying that we do not agree on something, but that does not need to compromise our relationship. I think this has been and this will be one of the essential elements of Hungarian–American relations, that if we disagree on something, then we will sit down, discuss it, get some results, agree on something. If not, we will say that “okay, you think differently.”

We have already touched upon the issue of rivals, as China and Russia are in conflict with the US in certain areas, which is a relatively big deal. And, not only Hungary, but the whole V4 community is in the middle of that. Let’s see what Mike Pompeo said about this.

America has been a friend, partner, and ally of the Slovak people for the last thirty years, and they can count on us in the next decades. This relationship was based on common values that are particularly important to be strengthened now, when Russian aggression undermines freedom on this continent. But, we also need to strengthen those values because of China, which is gaining more influence abroad while the people are living under oppression in the country.

Should America be afraid of the growing Russian and Chinese influence?

To this, I would just like to add that “Slovak” could be replaced with “Hungarian” in the secretary of state’s speech. It applies to both countries, and even more countries. The US should not be afraid. The United States must recognize that there are countries that do not agree with it and compete with the United States, and that appropriate American policies must be developed for this situation. If Ronald Reagan had been afraid of the Soviets, then the Russian troops would still be here. There is no need for fear, but a normal policy must be pursued. I think that, in relation to dictatorships, it has to be said that there is a border here; if you go beyond that, there is a problem, but if you don’t go too far, we can cooperate in many areas. The problem with Russia is that we really see only the opposition at the moment, not so much the cooperation, mainly because of Russia itself. But, we should try to show the Russian leadership that Russia would benefit from working with the United States and with us and with others, and, in return, they should, say, give up sending troops to Ukraine.

The US secretary of state said the following about the situation in Ukraine: “We cannot allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to drive a wedge between our friends and the NATO.” Wouldn’t it be better if he thought a little bit more about what he says and get more information? Because, if we think about the Hungarian minorities abroad, it may not be a good position for America to make such a statement.

In principle, what he said is right, and we also don’t want anyone to drive a wedge between us and our friends. I don’t even think that this has happened. It may be the intention, but it has not succeeded. We see the Ukrainian problem differently, in some ways, but not in many ways. We see it differently mainly because of the language law and its consequences, but America is a global power, so it has to look at Ukraine differently than we do. America needs to understand that we have other aspects and we need to understand that they have other aspects.

I think there is no huge problem here. We should accept that a country that is going to have an election soon, especially a weak country like Ukraine, cannot afford to make huge compromises, especially in the face of the Russian threat. So, we should wait patiently for the elections. In this regard, it should also be noted that there are high level ministerial consultations between Hungary and Ukraine on the language law. I think we’ll agree somewhere.

So far no one seems to have compromised yet.

No, but they cannot compromise before the elections. I think these consultations prepare an agreement for after the elections. The other thing I would like to note is that, yes, Hungary is visibly blocking the NATO–Ukraine Council meeting. However, this does not prevent the NATO–Ukraine cooperation. So, Hungary does not allow a spectacular gesture to be done, but practical cooperation is taking place. Look at today’s ministerial meeting in Brussels—if the ministers arrive there despite the strike. There will be no NATO–Ukraine council meeting, but there will be a breakfast called by the British defense minister, where they will discuss the same issue.

And, what is the situation with China? In the Chinese case, it is the economic interests and influence that are the major issue. At the same time, analysts have been saying for years that the Chinese balloon could pop in any minute, since Chinese economy is relatively unstable because of the overspinning.

Frigyes Karinthy said that a mother is always right. She keeps telling her son to put on a sweater otherwise he’ll catch a cold until one day he does catch a cold. So, of course, one can say that for years. The downfall of the Soviet Union had been predicted since 1918 too. There could be some popping of the Chinese balloon, but I don’t think so. The Chinese economy is not only strong, it is also very firmly controlled, so a huge popping is definitely prevented. Of course there are problems, but there are problems everywhere, in Europe as well.

How much of the American interest can or does China want to get?

I think that the Chinese–American war is coming to an end now, and the Americans will win. It does not mean that the Chinese will be greatly defeated, but I think the end of the war will be more beneficial for America, since America is in a better economic position. Surely there will be a next commercial war, but we don’t know when that will happen, but the next one might not be won by the Americans.

We have very little time left. To sum up this visit, what future goals can be formulated, and what can be changed in the relationship between the US and the V4 or the US and Hungary?

We can strengthen the cooperation in many areas: in military aspects, in strategy, in economy, in research and development, in culture, etc. In addition, I think that those who have malevolently thought that Hungarian–American relations are really bad, they now have to be silent, because it is just not the case. This had not really been the case before either, but now it is definitely not the case. It is partly our responsibility to live with the opportunities that this visit opened up.

Do you see any chance that leaders of the two countries will meet in the near future?

Yes, absolutely.

Did this visit lay down the foundations for that?

Yes. I do see the chances. For sure they will meet at the London summit in the fall. Will there be a separate meeting for the two leaders? I think that the possibility should not be overstated. Of course it is great if you are invited to the White House, I’d like to go there too, even though I’m not welcomed by the president, and it has a huge symbolic value. I do think that the meeting will happen sooner or later.

István Gyarmati, thank you for coming to us.

You’re welcome.

And our viewers, thank you for your attention. This was the program on the Visegrád cooperation. We are looking forward to seeing you next week. Have a nice evening, and goodbye.


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