The European Union agreed on Monday to embargo 90% of all Russian oil imports by the end of the year. Earlier proposals included a total embargo on Russian oil, but Hungary led the charge for an exemption to the embargo and received it in the new agreement. The untouched 10% of EU Russian oil imports flow through the Druzhba pipeline and provide oil to Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

Hungary stonewalled the negotiations on an oil embargo by demanding investments from the European Union in order to upgrade oil refineries and expand pipeline access from Croatia. The original price tag for these investments was 750 million euros. As the European Commission neared its announcement of 2 billion euros to assist Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia in transitioning away from Russian oil, the Hungarian government announced a new price tag: 15-18 billion euros.

The initial concerns over an embargo’s economic impact on Hungary were valid ones. Without replacing the Russian supply of oil, Hungary would have faced a domestic energy crisis that likely would have brought about a major economic downturn. Yet the European Commission called Orban’s bluff by exceeding his initial price tag for an embargo on Russian oil.

Hungary’s decision to raise the price tag of its demands is not a financial one but a political one. The nation has yet to receive approval for its Recovery and Resilience Plan from the European Commission because of concerns regarding a lack of anti-corruption efforts in the nation. The 2 billion euro grant to assist Hungary in its energy transition receives its funding from unused Recovery and Resilience funds.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban cannot hide under his nationalist facade. The leader is well aware that he cannot meet many of his domestic energy goals without investments from the European Union or autocracies like Russia and China. However, he refuses to ease up on his strongman form of governance.

No institution will provide funds to a nation if they fear the funds will be misused due to political corruption, and rightfully so. While the Hungarian government is facing criticism for its social stances on LGBT citizens, the RRP plan is not being halted for that reason. Orban could get approval for his plan by assuring the European Commission that funds will be properly allocated and distributed, yet he refuses to. When faced with a binary between Western institutions and anti-Western regimes, Orban has chosen the latter because it provides greater flexibility for Orban’s ambitions.

Hungary’s posturing is the latest chapter in the nation’s slow alignment with America’s geopolitical rivals. The nation was the first in the European Union to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative. “With the concept of the workfare society – which is based on low taxes, reasonable regulations, highly-trained workers and a favourable investor environment – we are ideal pillars for the implementation of the One Belt, One Road initiative,” stated Prime Minister Orban.

Populist American conservatives are willing to ignore Orban’s alignment with anti-Western autocracies because of his domestic policies. Tucker Carlson has hosted Viktor Orban on his show to discuss the country’s anti-Western posturing, while the Conservative Political Action Conference hosted a conference in Hungary on May 19 & May 20. Despite shouting “America First” from the rooftops, these conservatives are quick to praise a nation that cooperates with anti-American autocracies.

Foreign policy takes a backseat as Hungary enacts a domestic policy agenda that populist conservatives fight for at home. Rather than calling out Orban and the Hungarian government on their shortcomings, populist-right political activists treat the issue as a binary between Western globalism and populist politics. The first step to an America First foreign policy is calling out, not emboldening, nations that work with America’s geopolitical foes.

James Sweet is a Summer 2022 Washington Examiner fellow.