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Cornstein warns of Russia threat on NATO anniversary

U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein addressed the Hungarian Parliament on the 20th anniversary of the countryʼs accession to NATO, sharply criticizing China and Russia, according to a press release sent to the Budapest Business Journal.

U.S. Ambassador David B. Cornstein (photo: U.S. Department of State, public domain)

After praising the Hungarian people for their partnership and friendship as allies in the last two decades, Cornstein took a trip down memory lane, noting how Hungary and Central Europe in general managed to "end the darkness of communism and pursue a path of liberty." He then noted that support for Hungaryʼs NATO accession was solid (85%) 20 years ago.

"We recognize that the last 30 years have not been without hardship and challenge, but there is no doubt that these events were ʼwinsʼ for Hungary," the diplomat said. "Hungarians are safer, freer, more prosperous, and have more opportunities because of these choices. And the United States and other NATO members are better and stronger because we have Hungary as an ally."

The ambassador noted that there are nearly 1,000 Hungarian soldiers serving side-by-side in missions with allied troops, while the country is also on track to fulfill the NATO commitment of spending 2% of its GDP on defense. Cornstein added that the Heavy Airlift Wing at Pápa Air Base provides critical support to NATO operations, and that Hungary also hosts NATO’s Center of Excellence for Military Medicine and the NATO Force Integration Unit.

"We welcome Hungary’s initiative to host a NATO Regional Special Operations Command Center and establish a NATO Multinational Division Central that will further facilitate NATO coordination and operations in the future," Cornstein added, in concluding his listing of Hungarian NATO contributions. 

Furthermore, the ambassador expressed hope that the signing of the final version of a Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States and Hungary will commence soon, before moving on to speak about Russiaʼs influence in the region.

Threats and strengths

"I’ve heard some remark that Russia is not a military threat to Hungary, because the two countries don’t share a border. However, in today’s world, it’s a mistake to think only in terms of tanks crossing a border," Cornstein noted. "All NATO members face aggressive cybersecurity threats and misinformation campaigns from Russia designed to destabilize us, weaken our unity, and disrupt our democratic processes."

Cornstein also argued for better relations with Ukraine.

"Already more than 10,000 Ukrainians have lost their lives and 1.6 million Ukrainians have been driven from their homes. A close and high-level NATO relationship with Kiev is in every ally’s interest," he argued.

"We must resist the Kremlin’s cynical attempts to sow discord in our alliance, whether it is through disinformation campaigns or attempts to mimic Western institutions to buy influence in the region," he continued. "Even the best of allies will occasionally have disagreements, but we cannot lose sight of what makes us strong - our unity as NATO allies."

Afterwards, he warned against China and its attempts at influencing other countries. 

"Like Russia, it is an authoritarian power that does not share the aspirations of freedom embodied in NATO, and it will use its economic power to subvert the rule of law and achieve political power," Cornstein observed. "The United States has made no secret about its concerns over the role certain suppliers may play in our growing telecom networks. It is absolutely vital that every NATO member ensure that the networks we use to share sensitive security and defense information are secure," he stressed.

Towards the end of his speech, the diplomat thanked Hungary for voting to stand with the United States at the invocation of NATOʼs Article 5 after the 9/11 terror attacks. He also praised NATO itself, as the alliance approaches its 70th anniversary on April 4.

"No other institution or country or geopolitical power can offer the security and respect for sovereignty and personal liberty that NATO offers. Just as the United States was surrounded by allies in the difficult and painful aftermath of September 11, Hungary can also rest assured that, as a NATO member, it too will never stand alone in its defense," Cornstein said. "NATO is a win for all of us, and we are honored to stand with you and work with you as we continue to strengthen it for the future," he added.