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Hungary PM rejects Zelensky appeal over ‘national interests’

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban leaves the stage after delivering his annual state of the nation speech in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. –Reuters pic

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BUDAPEST, March 25 — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban dismissed today an EU summit appeal by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia as it would be “against Hungary’s interests”.

The nationalist premier “rejected (Zelensky’s) demands at the European Council because they are contrary to the interests of Hungary,” said Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs.

“Hungary wants to stay out of this war, so it will not allow the transfer of arms and weapons to Ukraine,” Kovacs said in a statement.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began last month, EU and Nato member Hungary, while letting in over half a million Ukrainian refugees, has refused to send military aid to Kyiv, or let it cross its territory.

A significant ethnic-Hungarian minority in Ukraine’s westernmost region of Transcarpathia would be threatened if Hungary sent weapons to Kyiv, Orban has insisted.

Hungary’s dependency on Russian gas and oil also means it cannot support an import ban according to Orban who has cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years.

“That would mean Hungarian families paying the price of war,” Orban said earlier.

“Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol?” said Zelensky during an address to EU leaders in a video message Thursday, referring to Ukraine’s besieged southeastern port city.

“Once and for all, you should decide who you are with,” he said.

Urging Orban to approve expanding sanctions, let weapons through to Ukraine, and cut off business ties with Russia, Zelensky said “there is no time for hesitation”.

“The time has come for you to make a decision,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk accused Hungary of wanting to annex Transcarpathia.

Describing Budapest’s stance on the war as close to “openly pro-Russian”, she asked, “is it because they want Russian gas with a discount or maybe because they… silently dream of our Transcarpathia?”

The remarks were “pointless accusations and baseless slander,” the Hungarian embassy in Kyiv said in a statement.

In power since a landslide win in 2010, Orban is also gearing up for a crunch election at home on April 3 where he faces a close contest with a six-party coalition.

Opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay said Zelensky’s speech and Orban’s reaction showed that the Hungarian “is seen as Putin’s last ally in the EU and Nato”. — AFP

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