Hungary Boosts Heat in Beef With Ukraine, NATO 

Its foreign minister says an upcoming meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission ‘hurts the cherished unity of NATO.’

AP/Markus Schreiber, file
Hungary's prime minister, Victor Orban, at Berlin, Germany, February 10, 2020. AP/Markus Schreiber, file

Governor DeSantis isn’t the only political figure who could be called an outlier with respect to the widespread support for besieged Ukraine — there is also the curious case of Viktor Orbán. In the months since the Russian invasion, the iconoclastic Hungarian prime minister has made no secret of his ambivalence.

That was thrown into sharp relief not only by the icy reception given to President Zelensky by Mr. Orbán at an EU summit in February, but by Hungary’s ongoing opposition to cooperation with Ukraine at a NATO forum — one that will convene next month against objections from Budapest.

At immediate issue is something called the NATO-Ukraine Commission, which last met at a ministerial level in 2019 at Kyiv. Hungary has essentially blocked any additional meetings since then. 

The reasons for Hungary’s resistance are complex, but historical animosity plays a part: Hungary claims that a Ukrainian law adopted in 2017 prevents an ethnically Hungarian minority in western Ukraine from studying in Hungarian. The region in which those concerned are situated is part of Transcarpathia, which shares a border with Hungary and much of which belonged to Hungary until the end of World War I. 

In more recent times — i.e., in the run-up to and following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine — Hungary has roundly criticized the EU’s raft of sanctions against Moscow and has continued to import Russian gas. Mr. Orbán, widely derided by putative allies in the West as a populist leader, has also been criticized for maintaining friendly ties with Vladimir Putin while most other European leaders have placed the Russian president squarely in the category of pariah. 

Now the friction caused by Budapest’s protests is catching up with it. There have been accusations that Hungary vetoed a recent joint EU statement about Mr. Putin’s recent arrest warrant, though a foreign ministry representative has denied that charge. Hungary is already at odds with the EU over legislation that many have criticized as homophobic and transphobic, though that is highly debatable.

More tension is evident in the response to the NATO secretary-general’s announcement that the NATO-Ukraine Commission will meet on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers at Brussels starting on April 4. Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, told reporters that  Jens Stoltenberg’s decision “in our opinion, hurts the cherished unity of NATO.”

Mr. Stoltenberg, for his part, might make the argument that Hungary has hurt NATO unity by refusing to fully repudiate the Kremlin and by stalling on agreeing to a date to vote on NATO’s expansion to include Finland and Sweden. 

Mr. Szijjártó, though, has reportedly confirmed the Hungarian parliament will vote on Finland’s membership on March 27. There was no immediate word if there would be a vote on Sweden’s membership, too. Important NATO decisions are, of course, built around consensus.

Giving expression to some latent frustration with Budapest, Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters on Tuesday regarding the NATO-Ukraine Commission that “in respect for the issues that Hungary has raised I have not convened that for some time, but now I will continue to convene” the meetings. He added that “of course this will not be a one-off event.”

The NATO chief also said that Hungary’s minority concerns, which while not nonexistent are likely overstated, will be discussed at next month’s parley. 

Yet if Mr. Orbán were to have his way, the NATO-Ukraine Commission would likely be dissolved altogether. This is a politician who has rightly or wrongly cast the defense of Ukraine as foremost a battle “between the troops of Slavic countries.” It is an interesting if reductive supposition, because for one thing, in the case of the ethnic Hungarian minority in eastern Ukraine, not all Ukrainians are of Slavic origin. 

The Hungarian leader has also refuted the notion that a Russian conquest of Ukraine would trigger further belligerence in Europe, because in his estimation the war so far demonstrates that “Russia wouldn’t stand a chance against NATO.” 

The official Budapest line aligns if only inadvertently with that of some leading American politicians, namely Republicans like Mr. DeSantis and arguably with some views of President Trump.  But other Western leaders must navigate some tricky political territory with a case like Hungary, which due to geographical reality has some decidedly contrarian views with respect to the war next door. 

If a country that has been clobbered by Moscow in the past truly sees no wider threat from the 21st century Kremlin beyond the general nuclear threat, that might not make it right nor entirely wrong. Count on NATO member states of complicated geopolitical orientations  like Turkey and, yes, even heavyweights like France, to be watching closely what happens at Budapest and Brussels in the weeks to come. 

The New York Sun

© 2023 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  Create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use