Hungary subtly turns down Kyiv proposal for Orban-Zelenskiy meeting, former foreign minister says

Hungary subtly turns down Kyiv proposal for Orban-Zelenskiy meeting, former foreign minister says
Hungarian President Katalin Novak in talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on August 22,2023. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews December 8, 2023

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto subtly rejected an offer from Kyiv for a meeting between President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, according to first commentaries after the news broke on December 7.

Head of the Ukrainian President's Office, Andriy Yermak made the proposal during a telephone call initiated by Kyiv. The official later tweeted that he contacted Szijjarto "following instructions of the president".

Yermak told Szijjarto about Ukraine's plans to adopt "several important pieces of legislation", referring to a change in the language law, long contested and deemed as discriminatory by Budapest. 

They agreed that bilateral ties called for improvement and decided on a personal meeting to follow. Yermak also proposed a meeting between the two leaders.

Hungary was open to the proposal, Szijjarto said, but "it will only have a point if there is a chance that the talks have a positive outcome ... this requires thorough preparations and preliminary talks."

Later in an interview, Hungary’s top diplomat said that there will be an opportunity for personal consultations with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko early next week in Brussels.

Ukraine’s ambitions are clear and its diplomacy is working to soothe tensions with Hungary ahead of the crucial EU summit next week, other analysts noted. Viktor Orban threatened to block the start of membership talks with Ukraine, and in a second letter to European Council President Charles Michel he called for ditching the topic from the agenda altogether.

Former Foreign Minister Peter Balazs, serving between April 2009 and May 2010 in the technocrat government of Gordon Bajnai, told private television channel ATV that in the language of diplomacy, Szijjarto’s reply was a "nay."

Ukraine is making gestures by changing the education law to allow ethnic Hungarians to study in their mother tongue, yet there is little willingness from Orban to ease tensions. He had earlier turned down calls to meet Zelensky saying the time was not appropriate. 

According to the former foreign minister, such would be uncomfortable for the Hungarian prime minister, who used Moscow's terminology, military intervention for the war in Ukraine, in talks with Vladimir Putin in Beijing during the Belt and Road summit. His foreign minister Peter Szijjarto has met half a dozen times with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov since the war, as Budapest is seeking to maintain or even enhance economic ties with Moscow.

The Hungarian government has lobbied for easing sanctions and openly chided the measures as inflicting more damage to Europe's economies than to Russia.

Orban, who is accused by many of serving the interest of Vladimir Putin in the EU by blocking aid to Ukraine or prolonging the ratification of Sweden’s Nato accession, has delegated the role of supporting Ukraine’s case to President Katalin Novak, according to Balazs.

Other analysts opine that Novak, whose role is barely ceremonial, is playing the good cop in Viktor Orban’s chess game. The former family minister, mother of three, has shown sympathy for Ukraine’s freedom fight. She had called the Russian invasion an aggression and even Vladimir Putin an aggressor. Novak has travelled to Kyiv several times and held a one-on-one meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in August.

In related news, Fidesz is planning to submit a motion to Parliament that would declare that Ukraine has not fulfilled conditions for EU accession. It also states that the enlargement of the EU must be based on objective and performance-based criteria. The governing parties claim that Parliament must condemn any political and financial pressure that would force Hungary to change its sovereign position.