Hungary's Ukraine stance leaves EU states fuming: 'Is Orban against Europe?' | World News - Hindustan Times

Hungary's Ukraine stance leaves EU states fuming: 'Is Orban against Europe?'

Bloomberg |
Dec 12, 2023 12:14 AM IST

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has twice written to the head of the European Council, warning him to drop Ukraine membership talks.

European Union member states are growing frustrated with Hungary’s attempt to block funding for Ukraine and obstruct the opening of accession talks, risking a showdown at a meeting of its leaders just as US funding for Kyiv is also in doubt.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban(AFP)
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban(AFP)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has twice written to the head of the European Council, warning him to drop Ukraine membership talks from the agenda of the summit, which takes place Thursday and Friday. He’s also been unwilling to back a €50 billion ($53.9 billion) support package for Kyiv.

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The government in Budapest continued to block all issues related to Ukraine at a meeting of EU ambassadors over the weekend, souring the mood that an agreement will be reached later this week, according to people familiar with the matter.

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“The only way I can read the Hungarian position, not just on Ukraine but on many other issues, is that they’re against Europe and everything that Europe stands for,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters ahead of a meeting with his counterparts in Brussels on Monday.

Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto hit back saying “we will not accept any pressure, and we will resist and kind of blackmail or temptation” regarding Budapest’s stance on EU accession talks for Ukraine, a Hungarian government spokesman said in a post on social media platform X.

The impasse in Brussels comes during a critical week for Ukraine. With US President Joe Biden’s request for further military assistance stalled in Congress and Hungary continuing to block EU support for Ukraine, Kyiv may be left empty-handed after EU leaders meet later this week and US lawmakers leave for their holiday break on Dec. 15.

Such a scenario would mark a turning point in Western support for Ukraine with newly committed military assistance already at its lowest level since the invasion began almost two years ago. It may also embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been betting that Kyiv’s allies would eventually grow fatigued.

Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy will press the case for further military assistance when he meets Biden and US congressional leaders in Washington on Tuesday.

For Ukraine, “the mother of all decisions” will be whether member states agree to open the accession talks at the summit, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters ahead of the meeting in Brussels.

“I cannot imagine, I don’t even want to talk about the devastating consequences that will occur should the council fail to make this decision,” he added.

Kuleba said he would meet his Hungarian counterpart on the sidelines of the gathering of foreign ministers to press for clarity on its position, given Ukraine is implementing reforms, including those requested by Budapest related to national minorities.

While Hungary has previously opposed numerous sanction packages against Russia, the bloc would ultimately find a way to bring Budapest around. This time, some diplomats worry Orban’s position has become too entrenched to find a solution.

Hungary’s leader has argued in recent weeks that Ukraine isn’t ready for EU membership and said the bloc’s leaders need to rethink their overall strategy toward Kyiv before taking any new decisions. He’s also proposed the EU develop a strategic partnership with Ukraine instead. Orban has privately made similar points to EU leaders in recent days, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told reporters that Hungary’s position has “been very, very deplorable over the course of the past months,” stressing that “it’s crucial that we keep on aiding Ukraine for as long as it’s needed.”

While the two issues haven’t officially been linked, Hungary’s position could soften this week once the EU unlocks around €10 billion of EU funds for Hungary, once its parliament concludes the adoption of some amendments to the reform of judiciary law.

The EU is separately working on a 12th package of sanctions against Russia, including plans to ban Russian diamonds and measures to better enforce the price cap on Russian oil. While some countries are continuing to try to water down the package, according to people familiar with the matter, there is hope the sanctions could be approved in the coming days or weeks.

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