Hungary Blocks NATO Role, Builds Trust With Ukraine

Ukraine Crisis

László Lehel, president and CEO of the Ecumenical Relief organization (right) welcomes Viktor Mikita, Governor of Zakarpattia Oblast State Administration Carpathian (known to Hungarians as Transcarpathia, and home to a sizeable ethnic Hungarian population), to ER’s Refugee Support Center in Budapest on April 12.

Photo by Tamás Purger / MTI.

“Hungary will not back any NATO proposals that might draw the alliance closer to war or shift it from a defensive to an offensive coalition,” government spokesman Zoltán Kovács said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) about plans for the Western defense alliance to initiate long-term support for Ukraine.

At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on April 3-4, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put forward a proposal that would provide EUR 100 billion in military support for Ukraine over five years.

The plan would also involve NATO playing a more direct role in coordinating the supply of arms, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine by taking over some of the work of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. The U.S.-led ad hoc coalition, also known as the Ramstein group, after the United States Airforce Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, where it first met, provides military equipment for Ukraine.

However, during a break at the meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó told journalists Hungary would oppose increasing NATO’s role as a coordinator of weapons deliveries to Ukraine. So far, he said, the strategy of giving Ukraine weapons to achieve success on the battlefield had “clearly failed.”

Red Lines

Speaking to journalists after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, Szijjártó recalled an earlier unanimous decision among members that NATO would not be a party in the military conflict and would make every effort to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia. While all previous NATO proposals had respected these “red lines,” he said, those being put forward now could bring the alliance “closer to the war,” adding that “war psychosis” among some members presented a severe risk of escalation.

Acknowledging that Hungary was the only NATO member to oppose an increased role as coordinator for the alliance, he said that the primary goal of the government he serves is to protect the country from its neighbor’s war.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Szijjártó spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba. Afterward, Szijjártó referred to steps taken over the past weeks towards restoring mutual trust between Hungary and Ukraine.

“Progress has been made; for example, changes to the agreement on cross-border traffic will contribute to ending unfair situations on the border between Hungary and Ukraine,” he said. He pointed to logistics investments in Fényeslitke (290 km northeast of Budapest), on the border with Ukraine, in which support from the Hungarian government had facilitated the transshipment of an annual one million containers and three million tonnes of wheat and cooking oil.

Further progress was made on April 11, when Hungary and Ukraine agreed to open another border crossing between the Hungarian settlement of Nagyhódos (340 km northeast of Budapest) and Velyka Palad in Ukraine, in addition to expanding the capacity of existing crossings.

Szijjártó said in a post on his Facebook page that the agreement on the sixth border crossing between the two countries had been signed earlier in the week by Hungary’s Ambassador to Ukraine Antal Heizer, and Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov. The expanded capacities at other border crossings include the opening of Beregsurány (315 km northeast of Budapest) to transport trucks.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of April 19, 2024.

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