Hungarian foreign minister hints at continued blockage of Ukraine military aid

Hungary’s foreign minister on Wednesday suggested his country would continue blocking military aid to Ukraine despite a recent decision by Kyiv to remove a Hungarian bank from a Ukrainian list of sponsors of Russia’s war.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said a Monday decision by the Ukrainian National Agency of Corruption Prevention to remove OTP Bank from the list was a “step in the right direction,” but he implied that Hungary required further assurances before it would change its approach to Ukraine in any international settings.

The Hungarian Foreign Ministry has invited Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency to come to Budapest “as soon as possible” to discuss the listing of OTP “so that we can negotiate an agreement that guarantees that no such decision will be taken (again) in the future,” Szijjarto said.

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“If a reassuring agreement is reached there, then we will, of course, have to consider what steps this justifies on our part,” the minister said at a news conference.

Ukraine added OTP to its list of sponsors of the war in May in response to the financial institution continuing its operations in Russia – and thus paying taxes to the central government – after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Peter Szijjarto

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto, right, meets with Slovene Environmental Minister Bojan Kumer, left, Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. (Attila Kovacs/MTI via AP)

In response, Hungary blocked an EU military aid package to Kyiv worth 500 million euros ($526 million) since May, vowing it would not withdraw its veto until OTP was removed from the list.

Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency temporarily removed the bank from the list last week in hopes that Budapest would lift its veto of the funding. But Hungarian officials signaled that the temporary removal was not enough, and the agency fully removed the bank from the list on Monday.

Hungary’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to emailed questions about whether Szijjarto’s comments indicated that Hungary would continue blocking the EU aid package despite OTP being taken off the war sponsors list.

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The Hungarian government, led by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has sparred with Kyiv over a number of issues since Russia’s full-scale invasion began.

Orbán, who has maintained ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has argued against supplying Ukraine with weapons and refused to allow Hungary to do so, and has fervently argued against imposing EU sanctions on Moscow, though he has never ultimately voted against them.

Last week, Orbán cast doubt on the prospect of the EU beginning negotiations any time soon for Ukraine to join the bloc, saying it was unrealistic to launch the accession process with a country at war. He also told the Hungarian parliament that his government would “not support Ukraine on any international issue” until the language rights of a Hungarian minority in western Ukraine were restored.

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Szijjarto said Wednesday that Hungary also expects Ukraine to remove OTP’s Russian branch and four of its Hungarian executives from a list of entities submitted for sanctions.

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