Hungary’s foreign minister hints that Budapest will continue blocking EU military aid to Ukraine

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s foreign minister on Wednesday said that his government wants guarantees from Kyiv that a Hungarian bank, recently removed from a Ukrainian list of sponsors of Russia’s war, will not be placed back on that list in the future — a sign that Budapest may not be ready to lift its veto of a major military aid package to Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that 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 that Hungary required further assurances before it would change its approach to Ukraine in any international settings.

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

“If a reassuring agreement is reached there, then we will of course have to consider what steps this justifies on our part,” Szijjarto told 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.

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

Last week, Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency temporarily removed the bank from the list in the 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.

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 that’s at war. He told the Hungarian parliament last week that his government would “not support Ukraine on any international issue” until the language rights of a Hungarian minority in western Ukraine are restored.

On Wednesday, Szijjarto said 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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