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This article was first published by Stratfor Worldview and is reprinted here with permission.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has weakened the political alliance between the nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary. For years, this alliance has been a thorn in the European Union's side. Warsaw and Budapest criticized the process of European integration and blocked reforms on issues like immigration, while increasing oversight over their respective judiciaries and cracking down on critical media. Their alliance highlighted the differences in political values between countries in Western and Central Europe, exposing EU institutional limitations to implementing policy and punishing member states that refused to adhere to Brussels' rules. 

The Polish-Hungarian alliance proved effective in at least two ways. To begin with, it allowed Warsaw and Budapest to avoid international isolation. Despite their constant disputes with EU institutions and Western European governments, Poland and Hungary counted on each other for state visits, cooperation agreements and, perhaps most important, to validate each other's ideology and domestic policy choices. The alliance also strengthened Warsaw's and Budapest's leverage in EU policymaking, as they could join forces to block EU decisions and prevent any attempts to impose punitive measures on either government. 

Russia was always one of the few points of friction in this almost total political alignment between Poland and Hungary, because of their different perceptions of the Russian threat. For Poland, Russia has always represented an existential threat. Without clear borders or natural barriers separating the two nations, Russia has participated in invasions and partitions of Poland for centuries. This history explains why Poland is one of the world's most hawkish countries toward Russia. Traditionally, Warsaw has advocated tough positions on relations with Moscow in both NATO and the European Union. Due to its own geography, Hungary does not share this sense of threat, and the authorities in Budapest have not shied away from seeking economic and political cooperation with the Kremlin. In fact, Hungary's government has often taken pride in its cordial ties with Moscow. 

While Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 sparked sporadic friction between Poland and Hungary (especially as Budapest threatened to veto EU sanctions against Russia), their alliance remained strong. But in one of the multiple secondary effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this has changed. From Poland's perspective, the attack represents the materialization of one of its primary fears: an expansive Russia that uses military force to subjugate a neighboring country. Poland subsequently has been one of the staunchest supporters of providing political, economic and military aid for Ukraine, and has campaigned for severing all EU links (from trade to energy) with the Kremlin. Hungary's considerably milder reaction to the war — including Budapest's refusal to send weapons to Ukraine or even allow weapons for Ukraine to cross Hungarian territory — and its ongoing threat to veto EU sanctions targeting Russian oil has come to irritate Warsaw, which needs EU and NATO unity in order to pursue its preferred policy of confronting Moscow. 

The war in Ukraine has also changed Poland's economic calculations. The global uncertainty generated by the war and the rise in energy and food prices have convinced Warsaw to tone down its disputes with the European Commission to secure access to much-needed EU funding. For years, Brussels has threatened to cut EU funding to Warsaw because of issues such as the Polish government's increased oversight over the judiciary. More recently, Brussels delayed the approval of Warsaw's plans to spend billions of euros from the EU COVID-19 recovery fund as leverage in their dispute. But in mid-May, the Polish government announced plans to scrap a controversial chamber in charge of supervising the work of judges, and the commission said it was ready to unblock EU funds for Poland. The truce between Warsaw and Brussels left Budapest as the only EU government with a high profile rule of law dispute with the bloc's executive. The same month that the commission welcomed the improved ties with Warsaw, it announced the beginning of a formal punishment procedure against Budapest that could result in economic sanctions. 

These recent developments raise questions about the future of the Polish-Hungarian alliance, and about the evolution of these governments' relationship with the European Union. The fracture between Warsaw and Budapest will probably not be total because both governments remain aligned on issues ranging from social values to their views on democratic institutions. But the war in Ukraine may convince Poland of the need to improve ties with the EU to avoid the bloc's fragmentation. A dysfunctional EU that struggles to implement policy (including sanctions) would strengthen Russia's leverage vis-a-vis the bloc, a situation that Poland has strong reasons to prevent. Poland will also hold a general election in late 2023, and the government may soften its position on some EU issues to avoid sending voters the message that it is isolated in the bloc while the Russian threat is still present. While Poland's government will not become an enthusiastic defender of EU federalization overnight, it may privilege cooperation over confrontation with the bloc's institutions, especially on security, defense and energy diversification issues.

The evolution in Polish behavior will force Hungary to make difficult choices. Budapest could stay the course, but this would come with significant political and economic risks, as the country would find itself increasingly isolated within the European Union. Standing firm would expose Hungary to the EU refusing to transfer funds to Budapest or even imposing economic and political sanctions. Conversely, Hungary could follow Poland's footsteps and de-escalate tensions with the European Commission. Lifting its veto on EU sanctions on Russian oil would be a first step in this direction. In addition to deferring the threat of EU retaliation, this would improve ties with Poland and keep the alliance alive. 

For the European Union, a friendlier Poland and a potentially less rebellious Hungary would remove one of the primary sources of intra-bloc frictions. Though Polish and Hungarian euroskepticism is far from the only source of internal disputes within the bloc, it is one of the most politically charged. A more united European Union would find it easier to implement policy, especially on issues that require unanimity, such as tax reform or foreign policy. 

Whether the emerging change in Warsaw and a potential one in Budapest would be permanent remains an open question. A lasting shift is more likely in the case of Poland, where the sense of urgency regarding Russia is greater and where the political and emotional impact of the war in Ukraine will last longer. While not as likely, a less confrontational approach to the European Union is also possible in Hungary. The ruling Fidesz party controls a comfortable majority in the Hungarian parliament, and a general election is not necessary until 2026. This cushion means the government would pay only a low political price for the significant economic rewards such a change of direction offers. 

While Poland's and Hungary's relationship with EU institutions at times has seemed beyond repair, their irritations pale in comparison to the prospect of a disunited Europe that fails to react to existential threats from beyond its borders. In the same way that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has reinvigorated NATO and motivated Sweden and Finland to abandon their neutrality and join the military alliance, it could reconcile the European Union and two of its most problematic member states.