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«A modest but very important step towards normalisation of relations» — Tuzhansky on negotiations with Hungary

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Estimated Reading Time: 3 min

On January 29, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, Head of the Presidential Office Andriy Yermak, and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba held a six-hour meeting in Uzhhorod. The discussions covered the war in Ukraine, bilateral relations with Hungary, economic cooperation, and the rights of national minorities.

Dmytro Tuzhansky, Director of the Institute for Central European Strategy and an expert on Ukrainian-Hungarian relations, shared insights about the meeting with Hromadske Radio.

«The meeting produced quite predictable but expected results. It represents a modest yet highly important step towards normalizing relations. The six-hour conversation delved into various aspects, going beyond what was publicly disclosed. Topics included Russian aggression in Ukraine, discussions on negotiation strategies and potential concessions to Russia, Ukraine’s security, Hungary’s pro-Russian stance, and local issues such as border checkpoints. The latter are crucial steps to enhance Ukrainian exports, as, surprisingly to some, only Hungary among our western neighbors has never blocked its border», — Tuzhansky stated.

The Hungarian authorities are navigating the most favorable strategy in the current circumstances. Negotiations with Ukraine can contribute to strengthening relations not only between the two countries but also between Hungary and the European Union.

«For Hungarian leaders, understanding the situation with Ukraine and our bilateral relations is crucial. Demonstrating a constructive attitude towards Ukraine to EU partners is also important for Hungary. Ahead of the December summit, Viktor Orban adopted an anti-Ukrainian position and found himself isolated, compelled to enjoy a solitary coffee. Serious conversations ensued regarding this position, despite Hungarian denials of it being anti-Ukrainian. However, one cannot go for coffee at every summit, and the next one is on February 1. Orban realizes he cannot block 50 billion and is unlikely to block the negotiation framework, so he needs to show that relations are normalizing, hence the absence of blocking», — the expert explained.

One of the discussion topics was the situation of Hungarians in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Szijjarto suggested expanding the rights of national minorities in Ukraine, reverting them to the state of 2015.

«Hungary will continue to make demands. This is not unique to Ukraine but applies to Romania, Slovakia, and essentially all countries with significant Hungarian communities on their historical lands. We need to be prepared for ongoing ‘grumbling’ from Budapest. While the issue of national minorities is crucial, representing the rights of Ukrainian citizens, it is in our interest to address them. Hungarian communities in Zakarpattia expressed incredible progress in a separate letter before the December summit. It’s a delicate game. Unfortunately, Orban’s team will not give up politicizing this issue. There’s a list of 11 requests from the Hungarian side, including the topic of national minorities. Fortunately, it hasn’t transformed into demands, ultimatums, or grounds for a veto. For now, it seems like a constructive dialogue», — Tuzhansky noted.

Hungary stated that it won’t supply weapons to Ukraine but will continue providing humanitarian aid.

«Allies can purchase Hungarian-made weapons for Ukraine, following a model similar to our arrangement with Slovakia. Orban’s position may change depending on the situation and become non-negotiable. The next potential turning points are the European Parliament elections and the US elections. These are the ‘beacons’ guiding Viktor Orban, but since they are still distant, he is taking certain steps towards Ukraine», — the expert concluded.

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