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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during their meeting in Budapest.

Reuters.

What We're Watching: Hungarian holdout, hope in Shanghai, US troops return to Somalia

Is Hungary holding the EU “hostage”?

The European Commission is pushing hard for a bloc-wide ban on Russian oil imports. But one member state — Hungary — has gone rogue and is holding up the embargo. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, Lithuania’s representative accused Hungary of holding the bloc “hostage,” after PM Viktor Orbán demanded that Brussels dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to offset losses from moving away from cheap Russian fossil fuels. Orbán is buddies with Vladimir Putin and has been trying to expand Hungary’s economic relationship with the Kremlin in recent months, so he is driving a hard bargain, saying that ditching Russian oil would be an “atomic bomb” for his country’s economy. Landlocked Hungary relies on Russia for around 45% of its total oil imports, and finding alternative sources could lead to shortages and price hikes at a time when Hungarians are already grappling with sky-high inflation. Still, Brussels says Budapest is being greedy because Hungary has already been given a longer window — until the end of 2024 — to phase out Russian imports. But Orbán is hoping to get more concessions ahead of a big EU summit on May 30, when the bloc aims to find a political solution to this stalemate.

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Macron celebrates his victory during a rally at the Champ de Mars in Paris.

JB Autissier/Panoramic

Macron beats Le Pen, encore

Sometimes the polls aren’t wrong. On Sunday, centrist French President Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right hopeful Marine Le Pen in a rerun of their 2017 presidential runoff.

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Putin greets Orbán during their meeting at the Kremlin in 2018.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Hungary hearts Russian gas, Israeli government in trouble, Ukrainian exodus

Hungry for Russian gas, Budapest will pay in rubles

Fresh off his decisive election victory last weekend, Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán broke with the rest of the EU on a key point of pressure against Moscow on Wednesday, saying he’s ready to pay for Russian natural gas in rubles if the Kremlin asks him to. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently threatened to cut off gas entirely to the EU — which relies on Russia for 40 percent of its supplies — unless member states pay for the stuff using Russian currency. Although the Brussels says no way, it’s ultimately up to each individual country to decide what it wants to do. Orbán, among the most Russia-friendly leaders in the EU, also runs a country that depends entirely on Kremlin-exported gas. Still, while Budapest may be going rogue against the rest of the EU on this, it wouldn’t make much of a financial difference for Moscow: Hungary accounts for just 3% of Russia’s gas exports to the continent. Meanwhile, stricter US sanctions — which include Russia’s largest bank since Wednesday — are pushing the country closer to a technical default on its sovereign debt.

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Authoritarians Like Putin No Longer Care What You Think | GZERO World with Ian Bremmer

Authoritarians gone wild

Political scientist Yascha Mounk says we're in a new era of naked power politics.

That means Vladimir Putin doesn’t care what you think anymore about his blind ambition. And he really doesn’t have to because authoritarians like him are on the rise.

On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks to Mounk, who explains why confidence in democracy is declining in the West at the same time authoritarian leaders like Putin and Xi Jinping have become more honest about their demands and lack of respect for democracy.

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A soldier takes a photograph of his comrade as he poses beside a destroyed Russian tank and armored vehicles in Bucha, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

What We’re Watching: Russian war crimes, Orbán 4.0, Sri Lankan turmoil

EU sanctions loom over alleged Russian war crimes

After Russian forces withdrew from the outskirts of Ukraine's capital, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government on Sunday accused them of committing war crimes by massacring civilians in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. Authorities are gathering evidence of the alleged atrocities to build a case against Russian officials at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and former ICC chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte wants to issue an international arrest warrant for Putin. To convict, Ukrainians would need to show a pattern of deliberate targeting of civilians. Still, the carnage has convinced the EU to act: it is preparing a wave of fresh sanctions against the Kremlin. It's unclear what the new measures will be, but pressure is mounting on the bloc to finally target Russian oil and natural gas, which many EU states depend on for energy. Late Sunday, Zelensky appeared at the Grammys in a pre-taped message. "Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos," he said, asking viewers to support Ukraine any way they can. Meanwhile, Russia-Ukraine peace talks may resume on Monday in Turkey, and Moscow is saying it’s not yet ready for face-to-face talks between Putin and Zelensky.

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Podcast: Naked power politics challenge global democracy, says author Yascha Mounk

Listen: Confidence in democracy is declining in the West at the same time authoritarian leaders like Putin and Xi Jinping have become more transparent about their demands and lack of respect for democracy, says Johns Hopkins University professor Yascha Mounk, author of a new book, "The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure."

On the GZERO World podcast, Mounk tells Ian Bremmer we're in a new era of naked power politics, illustrated by the way Putin is transforming Russia into a repressive regime. Putin believes the West is decadent while he views himself as a strong leader with traditional values. Meanwhile, the biggest challenges ahead for democracies like the US are racial disparities in wealth, tribalism, and extreme partisanship.

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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Beata Zawrzel via Reuters

Viktor Orban’s moment of truth

On Sunday, Hungary’s nearly eight million voters will elect 199 members of the country’s National Assembly, which is now dominated by the Fidesz Party and polarizing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Europeans will watch closely to see if the EU’s longest-serving head of government and no. 1 gadfly can win a fourth consecutive term. Vladimir Putin will watch to see if his most-trusted ally inside the EU can survive his toughest challenge to date.

Orban’s biggest worry is that six opposition parties, which agree on little beyond a common desire to push Orban out of power, have settled on a single candidate to replace him: Peter Marki-Zay, a 49-year-old mayor from a small city in the southeast.

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Putin, Russia & the Allure of Autocracy | GZERO Media

Putin, Russia & the allure of autocracy

“Emperor” Putin has no clothes — and he doesn’t care Global attention is now on Ukrainians fighting for democracy.

But over the past 15 years, the global trend has actually gone in the opposite direction — toward more autocracy. For John Hopkins University professor Yascha Mounk, it's all about confidence — lack of it in democracy in the West and more trust in autocracy in places like China or Russia.

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