Hungary, Ukraine Talk on Increasing Border Cargo Crossing Throughput

Ukraine Crisis

Destruction at Kherson International Airport in Chornobaivka, Kherson Oblast in Ukraine on November 20, 2022. Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjártó has continued to push the Hungarian line that the EU should abandon sanctions against Russia and arms shipments for Ukraine and “focus on peace-building” instead.

Photo by Jose HERNANDEZ Camera 51 / Shutterstock.com

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó encapsulated the latest developments for Hungary regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in statements he made during a meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on January 23.

Szijjártó began by clarifying that, while his government is not in favor of the EU sending funding for weapons to Ukraine, it would not block a proposed EUR 500 million in assistance to its beleaguered neighbor. He dismissed media reports that emerged last week that Hungary intended to veto funds earmarked under the bloc’s European Peace Facility as “lies.”

Hungary’s foreign minister said the country opposes the delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine because it could “lead to the prolongation or potential escalation” of the war.

“Instead of dead-end sanctions and hundreds of millions of euros in arms shipments, the EU should focus on peace-building in Ukraine,” he added. So far, Hungary has refused to provide Ukraine with weapons or allow their transfer across its border with Ukraine.

However, authorities have made progress regarding the shipment of other cargo across the border between the two countries. Hungarian and Ukrainian customs and border authority officials met with haulers’ associations in Záhony (300 km northeast of Budapest) on January 24 to discuss accelerating throughput, according to Hungary’s National Tax and Customs Authority (NAV).

At the meeting, both countries’ authorities underscored their commitment to further improving throughput capacity at border crossings while acknowledging that the goal could only be achieved through mutual cooperation.

Consistently Opposed

In Brussels, Szijjártó recalled that Budapest has consistently opposed sanctions against Moscow, alleging they have done more damage to EU economies than to Russia’s. Earlier this month, the government announced the results of a National Consultation it had earlier launched, asking the population if they agreed with Brussel’s sanctions.

Following an intensive advertisement campaign on behalf of the government declaring that these sanctions were destroying the economy, roughly 97% of Hungarians who responded said they disagreed with them. (However, only around 1.389 million people, from a population of a little under 9.7 million, participated in the survey, representing around one in seven Hungarians.)

Indeed, Szijjártó also warned that Hungary would oppose any sanctions the EU proposed against Russia that could adversely affect the operations of Hungary’s sole nuclear power plant, whose four reactors produce roughly half of Hungary’s electricity production, and is dependent on Russia for its fuel rod supply.

“We will never accept a single decision that would even slightly limit Hungarian-Russian nuclear cooperation,” Szijjártó said. “It would put the security of our national energy supply at risk, and nobody should expect that from us.”

Hungary’s foreign minister also called on Ukraine’s government to respect the rights of the Hungarian ethnic minority in the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia. According to Szijjártó, ethnic Hungarians there had recently been victims of “concentrated attacks” by local authorities.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 27, 2023.

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