On Saturday, the Prime Minister of Hungary responded to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s calls for Budapest to quite sitting on the fence in the conflict between Kiev and Moscow with a simple sentence, “Hungary is on Hungary’s side.”
Orban said that, while his country could not “be indifferent” to the “Russo-Ukrainian war going on in our neighborhood,” Hungary would look after its own interests first, and maintain a “Hungarian point of view.” He went on to stress that Budapest “want[ed] to stay out of this war,” but that this did not preclude it from helping “those in need.”
The Hungarian PM was responding to the speech made by Zelensky to EU leaders via video link on Friday. In his speech, the Ukrainian leader called out Hungary, speaking directly to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after listing a majority of EU countries whom he deemed cooperative.
Hungary… I want to stop here and be honest. Once and for all. You have to decide for yourself who you are with. You are a sovereign state. I’ve been to Budapest. I adore your city. I have been many times – very beautiful, very hospitable city. And people, too. You have had tragic moments in your life. I visited your waterfront. I saw this memorial… Shoes on the Danube Bank. About mass killings. I was there with my family.”
“Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol?” Zelenskyy asked, “Please, if you can, go to your waterfront. Look at those shoes. And you will see how mass killings can happen again in today’s world.”
The “shoes on the Danube Bank” being referenced by Zelensky is the memorial honoring the roughly 20,000 Jews who were massacred at the edge of the water by Arrow Cross militiamen during the Second World War. He emphasized that Russia is doing the same thing to Ukrainian civilians today. “Adults and children. Grandparents,” he said, “and there are thousands of them. And these thousands are gone.”
Zelensky went on to make two requests for Hungary. The first is to vote in the extension of sanctions to the energy sector and stop buying both gas and crude oil from Russia. The second is to send weapons to Ukraine through its own borders.
And you hesitate whether to impose sanctions or not? And you hesitate whether to let weapons through or not? And you hesitate whether to trade with Russia or not? There is no time to hesitate. It’s time to decide already.”
“We believe in your people. We believe in the European Union.”
In a video posted to social media on Friday morning, Mr. Orban rejected supporting sanctions on Russian energy.
Given Hungary’s dependence on Russian energy, the prime minister said, “sanctions would mean Hungary’s economy would quickly slow down and stop.”
“This is unacceptable. It is contrary to the interests of Hungarians,” Mr. Orban said.
Unlike the other EU member states bordering Ukraine, Hungary has so far refused to either send weapons to Kiev or let other countries move such shipments through its territory.
Orban argues that as around 85% of its gas and over 60% of its oil is imported from Russia, it would not be in Budapest’s best interest to rile Moscow.
In his latest statement on Saturday, however, the Hungarian prime minister emphasized that “it must be made clear to the Russians that it is not worth pursuing this war,” warning at the same time that Europe should avoid hurting itself “more than the Russians.”
He also called on Brussels to provide Hungary with more funding to deal with the influx of Ukrainian refugees.
Hungary was staunchly against the acceptance of Refugees into the EU and particular its own borders during the Syrian refugee crisis, but it has so far thrown its doors open for Ukrainian Refugees since the Russian 24th February Invasion of Ukraine.
Viktor Orban, faces an election next month, he has been a close ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Earlier in the week, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk has accused Hungary of having designs on Ukrainian Land.
Nnamdi Maduakor is a Writer, Investor and Entrepreneur
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