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Dec 05, 2018

FM Péter Szijjártó: Hungary backs Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence, but we’re watching the minority issues closely

Hungary’s position on Ukraine remains clear and unwavering, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó made that plain in his statements at a press conference on Tuesday while attending the NATO meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

“Hungary stands in support of the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine, but we’re following closely the policies that affect minorities,” said Minister Szijjártó.

His comments echoed those made by Prime Minister Orbán late last week.

“We are a pro-Ukraine government, we stand by Ukraine,” said Prime Minister Orbán responding to a question at a press conference in Prague last Friday, following his meeting with Prime Minister Babiš. “But while the Hungarian government is a friend of Ukraine, in Ukraine there is an anti-Hungarian government. Nevertheless, we have not changed our position. We continue to stand by Ukraine in this conflict,” the prime minister said.

Minister Szijjártó was responding to questions about Hungary’s continued opposition to meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

As long as Ukraine does not stop the systematic infringement of the rights of the ethnic Hungarian community in Ukraine, Hungary will not support the convening of meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. “We’re under great pressure,” Minister Szijjártó said, “to abandon this position. If we were to give it up, then we would not have any other means of standing up for the interests of the ethnic Hungarian community.”

Ukraine must take the necessary steps to restore the rights due to Hungarians living in Ukraine, those that are guaranteed on the basis of bilateral agreements and international law. “The ball is in Ukraine’s court,” said Minister Szijjártó.

PM Orbán’s statement last Friday and Minister Szijjártó’s on Tuesday make clear that Hungary expects Ukraine to restore the rights due to the ethnic Hungarian community. However, that firm position in no way diminishes Hungary’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence.

Minister Szijjártó also made that position clear last week following the imposition of martial law. “Hungary is fully in support of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, which has always been the position of Hungary’s foreign policy and remains so in the future,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday last week.

His statement followed the Ukrainian parliament’s approval of the presidential decree on the declaration of martial law in ten Ukrainian provinces. The decree followed an incident in the Black Sea in which vessels of the Russian Federal Security Service reportedly opened fire on three small Ukrainian naval ships 13 to 14 nautical miles from the Crimean Peninsula, seizing them and accusing them of border violation.

The imposition of martial law in ten most-threatenedUkrainian provinces began November 28 and will last until December 26 but the region of Transcarpathia, where most ethnic Hungarians reside, is not among those areas.

It is in the interest of all countries, including Hungary, that neighboring countries remain strong, stable and peaceful, he said.

Minister Szijjártó also mentioned conversations with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister over the conflict in East Ukraine and the promise that ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia would not be disproportionately enlisted in the Ukrainian armed forces, a pledge that, according to local Hungarian leaders, is indeed respected by Ukraine.

The minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade added that Budapest is in daily contact with Hungarian leaders in Transcarpathia to remain apprised of events. He stressed that the situation can be only changed with better cooperation under the Minsk agreement.

“This is the only [avenue] that offers a chance to settle the situation between Russia and Ukraine, and Hungary provides all possible support,” he said.

For more details on Hungary’s position on the rights of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, see my previous post, “Ukraine and discrimination against Hungarians: When will we see real progress?” and “Hungary and Ukraine: Here are 5 facts you should know”.