Russian-Hungarian slap in the face of the EU and NATO. How long will the Allies remain silent

Iryna Somer
21:30, 01 November 2017
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Opinion

By blocking the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission at the level of foreign ministers, which could take place this December, Hungary has gone pretty far. Budapest’s behavior has become provocative; it was a frank slap in the face of the Allies simply because the Bloc was confronted so bluntly.

Ahead of the relevant statement by Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, I happened to be visiting NATO headquarters. When I asked my contacts whether the Alliance knows anything aware of the blocking, I heard an honest "Nothing."

And the next day came that loud statement by the Hungarian side.

At the same time, NATO is trying diligently to save face, convincing everyone that such a meeting was never scheduled. It's true, too. In fact, the Alliance is right on this. But at the same time, they don’t elaborate. The thing is that the coordination of the agenda is still ongoing. As of today, there is no and there cannot be an approved agenda which would say that here, in December, we’ll have a meeting with Ukraine. Budapest took a position, according to which there will be no NATO meetings with Kyiv, except those at the ambassadorial level. And there will be no summit in July, either. The country’s leadership should understand this.

Anyway, Budapest, being a NATO and EU member state, took advantage of its right of strong in relation to Kyiv. It cannot be ruled out that Hungary will also block all existing programs within the framework of bilateral cooperation. We are talking about no less than the whole comprehensive assistance package approved at the Warsaw summit. Is it beneficial for the Alliance?

Anyway, Budapest, being a NATO and EU member state, took advantage of its right of strong in relation to Kyiv

Apart from NATO, let’s not forget about Budapest’s stance in the EU, where it has already loudly announced the intention to revise, if not revoke, the Association Agreement with Ukraine. On the eve of the meeting of the Association Council, which is to be held in Brussels December 6, Hungary is already insisting on discussing the issue of Ukraine’s “violation” of the Association Agreement with its law on education.

The only argument that the Hungarians voice out loud is that Ukraine is an enemy depriving the Hungarian minority of the right to speak their native language. Do you think that after all the explanations Kyiv has provided, yet another myth disappeared? It didn’t. Having taken up the position of blocking all of Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, Hungary consistently implements it. Is it beneficial for the EU?

Let's put it another way. Is it beneficial for the EU and NATO to have a weakened Ukraine, capable of collapsing? Obviously, this is beneficial to Vladimir Putin. And who is his friend in the EU? It’s President of Hungary Victor Orban.

The only argument that the Hungarians voice out loud is that Ukraine is an enemy depriving the Hungarian minority of the right to speak their native language.

Let’s operate on facts.

This year, Putin visited Hungary twice - on February 2 and August 28. During his second visit, he was to be awarded the degree of an honorary doctor at the University of Debrecen. University scholars and students spoke up against the move, writing an open letter where they disowned such a decision of the academic council and urged that it be canceled. The petition of the same nature was also signed by youth organizations. For the reasons unknown, the solemn ceremony never took place while the reports came that it would be held during Putin’s next visit, which could take place early next year. There was also a wave of media reports claiming that it was wrong to have two visits by Putin within a year. And then the Ukrainian law on education emerges. The whole Putin issue as well as the reports on frequent visits by Russian operatives of different levels and ranks, and the entire issue of Russia's influence on Hungary's foreign policy are being thrown into the shadows, giving way to "evil Ukraine". Doesn’t it remind you of anything? What is Russia’s traditional way to distract attention from someone’s internal affairs? That’s right. It’s Ukraine. How were Hungarians distracted from the dominance of Putin’s agenda? Once again, it’s Ukraine.

Does the Kremlin factor influence Hungary’s foreign policy toward Ukraine? There is no doubt, it does.

Let's return to the recent statement about the blocking of the Ukraine-NATO Commission’s meeting. It appeared on October 27. But here’s what happens on its eve. First deputy foreign minister of the Russian Federation, Mr Titov, arrives in Budapest on a working visit. Following the visit, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement claiming that "serious concern has been expressed over the policy of total ‘Ukrainization’ carried out by Kyiv, its harmful impact on national minorities in this country. The mutual adherence is stated by Russia and Hungary to efforts to protect Christian values and civilizational foundations in Europe, which guarantee the normal development of society and the well-being of future generations. The issues of relations on the Russia-EU and Russia-NATO lines have been considered."

Does the Kremlin factor influence the foreign policy of Budapest towards Ukraine? There is no doubt, it does.

A little earlier, on October 19, Minister of Human Resources of Hungary Zoltan Balog pays a visit to Kyiv, and an opportunity emerges to get the dispute resolved. At his joint presser with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Education Minister Liliya Hrynevych, Balog spoke out for a "constructive dialogue with Ukraine", adding that a joint position on the law should be agreed before the end of the transition period of its implementation. Balog voiced the same position, speaking at a press conference following the meeting. But the very next day, his ministry comes up with a statement totally opposite to what Balog has said earlier - Budapest considers the execution of the law suspended. And everything is being rolled back to the initial positions. The only option for continuing the dialogue is either to abolish the education law’s [language-related] Article 7 or the repeal of the law as a whole.

Hungary is not interested in resolving the situation with Ukraine; instead, it is interested in improving relations with Russia, which is clearly seen in the mirror positions of Budapest and Moscow

Moscow and Budapest also echoed each other in an Oct 17 statement by Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko and Chairman of Hungary’s State Assembly László Kövér, as both officials expressed readiness not to allow the Ukrainian law on education to take effect.

There are more facts to address, but in order not to overload the column, I'll put it simple. Hungary is not interested in resolving the situation with Ukraine; instead, it is interested in improving relations with Russia, which is clearly seen in the mirror positions of Budapest and Moscow

Hence, the question: how far are the Hungarians ready and willing to go? Where is the red line that they won’t cross? Will the opinion by the Venice Commission resolve this situation? One of two options says no. Budapest will go on whistling a merry tune and ignoring the decision.

And here, the future of Ukraine's relations with NATO and EU, and, perhaps, the future of Ukraine itself, will depend on the EU and NATO member states. It’s today when we have to ask them a question: how long do you intend to pretend that nothing is happening? Indeed, you have already tried to influence Orban on the issue of allocating refugee quotas, and you failed. But this situation right here is somewhat more complicated. It is about employing the EU member state as Putin’s weapon against Ukraine. Are you ready to accept this? Maybe it's time to raise the question of whether the EU and NATO need a member like Hungary.

At the same time, another question arises: how long will we keep creating obstacles for ourselves only to heroically overcome them afterward?

Iryna Somer

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