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Orbán key in Trumpʼs negative view on Ukraine, NYT says

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán played an important role in shaping U.S. President Donald Trumpʼs negative perception of Ukraine, with the two leaders having a discussion on related issues during Orbánʼs visit to the White House in May, according to a report by The New York Times.

Image: MTI/Szilárd Koszticsák

Trump discussed Ukraine with Orbán on May 13, during the time when the presidentʼs personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was pressing the Ukrainian government for damaging information on the Democrats.

According to NYT, Orbán gave a sharply negative assessment of Hungaryʼs northeastern neighbor, which contributed to Trumpʼs hostile attitude towards the country. 

The report also claims that Orbánʼs visit was opposed by then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and Fiona Hill, then the National Security Council’s senior director for Eurasian and Russian affairs.

But there were others pushing for the meeting, such as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. United States Ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein, who was a frequent guest at Trumpʼs West Palm Beach golf club well before his appointment according to USA Today, apparently sidestepped the U.S. State Department to help set up a White House meeting.

The Hungarian government has had a relatively frosty relationship with Ukraine in recent years, mostly because of the handling of the sizable Hungarian minority in the Subcarpathian region, especially through a language law that limits the use of minority languages.

Language rights

“The new Ukrainian Language Act goes against Ukraine’s international obligations and violates the rights of national communities because it strips them of their existing, previously acquired rights relating to language use,” government website kormany.hu. quoted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as saying in a statement made around the time of the Orbán-Trump meeting.

NYT says that, after meeting with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky 10 days after receiving Orbán in the White House, most of Trumpʼs advisers were convinced that Zelensky is a reformer, deserving of American support.

However, Trump allegedly told them that Ukrainians were “terrible people” who “tried to take me down” during the 2016 presidential election.

The Hungarian PM’s visit came up last week, during a testimony to House investigators by George P. Kent, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for Ukraine policy, the report says.

It adds that Kent testified that Orbánʼs negative assessment of Ukraine was one of the three factors contributing to Trumpʼs views of the country, with the other two being Giulianiʼs influence and a phone discussion between the U.S. President and Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation.

The report claims that the Orbán-Trump discussion about Ukraine troubled American officials enough to make them take action. U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker met with several Hungarian officials in the wake of the meeting, in order to encourage dialogue between Budapest and Kiev to resolve political differences.