Ukrainian and Hungarian foreign ministers meet but fail to break diplomatic deadlock.
The years-long diplomatic row between Ukraine and Hungary took a step toward resolution Monday at a meeting of their foreign ministers, but no progress was made on blocking the Hungary of a crucial financial aid package from the European Union for Kiev.
The meeting, held at a seaside resort near the Ukrainian town of Uzhhorod, came as EU leaders struggle to persuade Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to lift his veto of 50 million euros in EU aid. billion euros ($54 billion) to Ukraine, which he announced at an EU summit in December.
Mr Orbán, widely seen as the Kremlin’s closest European ally, said he would not support funding aid through the 27-member bloc’s budget, frustrating other EU leaders. EU working to force a change in its position ahead of a summit in Brussels on Thursday, where they will try again to approve funding.
A diplomatic meeting
Monday’s meeting was Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto’s first visit to Ukraine since Russian invasion in February 2022, and the only official bilateral meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in the past two years.
Mr Szijjarto said Ukraine’s changes late last year to its education and language laws had “without doubt ended a negative spiral” that had restricted Hungarians’ rights ethnic people from the Zakarpattia region in western Ukraine to study in their native language.
But these changes are not enough to resolve the dispute over the linguistic rights of the Hungarian minority, which has dominated poor relations between the two countries for years.
Hungary, Szijjarto said, “expects members of the Hungarian national community to regain their rights that already existed in 2015.”
“We still have a long way to go,” he said, “but we, on the Hungarian side, are ready to do this work.
Mr Kuleba said he considered the Hungarian minority issue “fundamentally resolved”, but that a joint committee would be set up to examine how Kiev can respond to Budapest’s other demands regarding Ukraine’s Hungarian community, and present these findings to the respective governments in ten days.
Tensions have flared between the two neighboring countries, with Budapest obstructing EU efforts to provide financial and military assistance to kyiv and refusing to supply weapons to Ukraine or allow their transfer across the Hungarian border .
Hungarian officials have accused kyiv of mistreating the Hungarian minority in western Ukraine to justify their lukewarm support for the war-ravaged country.
Viktor Orbán expected in Ukraine
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office who also participated in the discussions, said progress had been made on organizing a bilateral meeting between Mr. Orbán and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but did not give any details. details on when it could take place.
None of the officials would say whether Hungary was likely to lift its veto of the EU’s 50 billion euro aid package at Thursday’s summit.
Ukraine has urgently requested Western funds as it reports shortages of ammunition and military equipment. A $60 billion aid package planned by the United States has been blocked in Congress, making it difficult for kyiv to renew its military capabilities in the face of Russia’s more modern weaponry.
The EU has withheld billions of dollars in funding from Budapest over concerns that Orbán’s government has clamped down on judicial independence, media freedom and community rights LGBTQ+.
Some of Mr Orbán’s critics within the EU say he used his veto over aid to Ukraine to gain access to frozen funds, while Budapest says Brussels is seeking to blackmail the Hungary to force him to change his policy.