Ukraine hails constructive talks with Hungary

Published January 30, 2024
This handout photograph published on January 29, 2024, on the official Telegram channel of Andriy Yermak showsHungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto (L), Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak and Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba (R) paying tribute at Monument for Died Ukrainian Soldiers in Uzhhorod, home to a large ethnic Hungarian community in Ukraine, on January 29, 2024.—AFP
This handout photograph published on January 29, 2024, on the official Telegram channel of Andriy Yermak showsHungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto (L), Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak and Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba (R) paying tribute at Monument for Died Ukrainian Soldiers in Uzhhorod, home to a large ethnic Hungarian community in Ukraine, on January 29, 2024.—AFP

UZHHOROD: Ukraine’s foreign minister on Monday thanked Hungary for “constructive” talks, ahead of a European summit where Kyiv hopes Hungary’s Viktor Orban will lift a veto on a multi-billion-euro EU aid package.

Relations between the two neighbours have been strained over the past few years and were further aggravated when Prime Minister Orban in December vetoed 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in EU aid for Kyiv.

In an effort to mend ties and “find solutions” to their differences, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested a direct meeting with Orban.

Monday’s talks between Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and Ukraine’s top diplomat Dmytro Kuleba around the city of Uzhhorod in western Ukraine were intended to lay the groundwork.

Over 100,000 Hungarians live in Ukrainian area that belonged to Hungary before WWI

Szijjarto has not visited Ukraine since Russia launched its offensive against Kyiv in February 2022, although he has been to Moscow on several occasions.

“I want to emphasise the main point of this conversation: frankness, sincerity, and constructiveness,” Kuleba said following his six-hour meeting with Szijjarto. Szijjarto also said the two countries had taken “encouraging steps” but warned they still “have a long way to go”.

“We have a lot of work to do, but we on the Hungarian side are ready to do this work,” Szijjarto told the joint press conference. Monday’s foreign minister talks come just days before European Union leaders are due to convene for an extraordinary summit on Thursday to make progress on their stalled aid package for Kyiv.

Szijjarto said the EU financial aid to Ukraine was “not a bilateral question,” and discussions on it would have to take place in Brussels.

He added a high-level meeting between Zelensky and Orban made sense “if it can deliver results that can add a new dimension to bilateral relations”.

Minority rights

Orban is the only EU leader who has maintained close ties with the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In December, Orban abstained from a decision to open talks with Ukraine on joining the bloc by leaving the room when the vote was taken.

He has also called for ceasefire negotiations with Moscow, saying that Ukraine cannot win the war. Security measures were stepped up in Uzhhorod — home to a large ethnic Hungarian community — after a reported death threat against Szijjarto.

Minority rights are another point of contention between the two countries. More than 100,000 ethnic Hungarians live in Ukraine, almost all in the region of Transcarpathia, which belonged to Hungary before World War I.

Kuleba and Szijjarto on Monday discussed the issue of minority rights, agreeing to set up a committee to study it further. To appease relations, the Ukrainian parliament in December passed a law to restore some language rights for national minorities – which Szijjarto welcomed on Monday.

But Budapest insists that the status of Hungarian must be restored to the same level it was before Ukraine passed a controversial language education law in 2017.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2024

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