Regional Security Requires Ukraine and Hungary To Work Together

It is mutually beneficial for Kyiv and Budapest to find ground to support one another

6 December 2022

Vitaly Portnikov

Future of Ukraine Fellow

In the EU, Hungary has been the least outright supporter of Ukraine through the blocking of collective loans and attempts to prevent Russian sanctions from being realised, and yet they do still vocalise support. These divergent stances confuse many in Kyiv as the two countries share a similar past with the same oppressor.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s words that Europeans need a sovereign Ukraine so that Russia cannot threaten Europe were received with genuine enthusiasm in Kyiv. Moreover, they were uttered against the backdrop of Hungarian President Katalin Novák’s visit to Ukraine.

The head of the neighbouring state visited Kyiv and Transcarpathia, and during her stay in the Ukrainian capital she blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war, stating that “Hungarians have been against bloodshed, pain and suffering from the beginning.”

Hollow Words for Ukraine

At the same time, Hungarian policy toward Ukraine and the war has changed little.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjarto expressed outrage that Hungarian companies operating in Russia are not allowed to work in Ukraine. Hungary continues to block Ukrainian participation in the work of the Ukraine-NATO Commission, for which reason NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had to hold a special ministerial meeting with Ukrainian Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the recent summit of the alliance’s foreign affairs chiefs.

Yes, and the same Viktor Orbán refused to support the financial aid plan for Ukraine, and in the very speech in which he stated the need to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty, reiterated his doubts about the effectiveness of the sanctions policy and talked about how the policy was harming the European Union itself.

While every sentence by the Hungarian prime minister indicating support for Ukraine and every visit by a Hungarian politician in solidarity with Ukrainians is received with hope in Kyiv, they are also devoid of any real expectations. Ukrainians really don’t understand what reasons actually led to the cooling of relations between Ukraine and Hungary, and they really expected Viktor Orbán to give up his special relationship with Vladimir Putin after the Russian attack on Ukraine. Yet, while that didn’t happen, hope remained.

More fundamentally, there has been a misunderstanding: Since Hungary has undergone almost the same trials in its history as Ukrainians do today, why does it not understand Ukraine’s position?

Russian Suppression of Hungary

The Hungarian uprising of 1848-1849 – a romantic attempt to create its own state – was quelled by the troops of Russian Field Marshal Ivan Paskevich. The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 – the most striking and large-scale attempt by a Central European country to “escape to the West” and leave the Soviet sphere of influence – was similarly suppressed by the troops of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev.

At the same time, in 1956, Hungarians experienced almost the identical situation as Ukrainians are today: initial hope that they would have direct support from the United States and NATO coupled with the eventual realisation that they would have to fight alone for freedom and independence.

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After the suppression of the Hungarian uprising, the famous German politician Franz Josef Strauß, who was Defense Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1956, wrote that “at first the Americans raise hope in the Hungarians, and when things get serious, they leave the Hungarians to their own fate. There could be no question of NATO military intervention. The suppression of the Hungarian popular uprising by the Red Army was not considered to be in violation of NATO’s interests…”

Fortunately, the Ukrainians were not left to their own devices, although at the same time they stressed that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not a conflict between NATO and Russia either.

Yet, when Viktor Orbán, on the one hand, compares Hungary’s prime minister in 1956 Imre Nagy with Vladimir Zelenskyy, and on the other continues to communicate with Vladimir Putin and tries to block sanctions against Russia, it can’t help but cause a stir.

Perhaps that’s why every political gesture by the Hungarian leadership – a presidential visit to Kyiv or a statement by the prime minister about the importance of preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty as a guarantee of Europe’s security – raises new hopes in Ukraine. Ukraine badly needs Hungary’s support. Without this support, there will be neither a consolidated position of the Visegrad countries, harmonious development of the Central and Eastern European region, nor a common position on Ukraine’s integration into the European Union and NATO.

But Hungary also needs Ukraine’s support. Because if Ukraine loses, if it fails to secure its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Budapest will think not of economic ties with Moscow and gas at preferential prices, but of entirely different challenges to its own security.

In this regard, Viktor Orbán is absolutely right.



Published as part of our own Future of Ukraine Fellowship programme. Learn more about it here and consider contributing.

Featured image included: “Ukraine’s President Zelensky to BBC: Blo” (Public Domain) by President Of Ukraine and Viktor ORBÁN (Prime Minister, Hungary) Ukraine Copyright: European Union.

Vitaly Portnikov

Future of Ukraine Fellow

Vitaly is a Visegrad Insight Fellow as of 2022. He is also an author and renowned journalist working in democratic media in Central and Eastern Europe for more than three decades. He is the author of hundreds of analytical articles in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Baltic media. He hosts television programs and his own analytical channels on YouTube. He is currently broadcasting at the office of the Espreso TV channel in Lviv and continues to cooperate with the Ukrainian and Russian services of Radio Liberty. On the Russian service of Radio Liberty, he continues the project about the post-Soviet space “Roads to Freedom”, which was aired first from Moscow, then from Kyiv, and is now being produced in Lviv as a joint project of Radio Liberty, the Current Time TV channel and the Espreso TV channel.

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