A top NATO official on Tuesday said a letter from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán vowing to block any moves toward Ukraine’s accession at an upcoming summit will have no impact on Kyiv’s standing with the alliance.
On Monday, Ukrainian news outlet Europeiska Pravda reported that the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a missive to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stating, “Orban is planning to vote against any document that will be proposed for adoption by the members of the Alliance after the meeting with the Ukrainian and Georgian leaders.”
According to the Pravda report, the letter was sent just days after a Ukrainian-Hungarian ministerial where officials from both countries had largely resolved a dispute over a Ukrainian law on education that stood in violation of the Venice Commission, a legal advisory body to the Council of Europe.
If Ukraine agreed to come into compliance with the law, Hungarian officials said, they would unblock Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO. As NATO member since 1999, Hungary’s permanent delegation can veto accession efforts by aspiring NATO member countries, such as Ukraine.
Neither NATO nor Hungarian officials have commented on why Budapest suddenly reversed its decision on NATO-Ukrainian ties, nor has either party agreed to divulge the contents of the letter.
NATO officials on Tuesday confirmed possession of the letter, but directed queries about its contents to Budapest.
“The Hungarian government has written to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the topic of Ukraine,” a NATO spokesperson confirmed with VOA’s Ukrainian Service. “For any queries about the content, I refer you to the Hungarian authorities.”
“NATO provides strong political and practical support to Ukraine and there are no plans for this to change,” the alliance spokesman added. “Over the last years, Ukraine has implemented substantial reforms in the security and defense sector, but also in areas including health, education and welfare. It is important that Ukraine continues on the path of reforms.”
Although it was not clear whether Orban’s letter sought to block Ukrainian participation in the summit, the NATO official wrote: “Ukraine will take part in next week’s NATO summit. The summit formats will be announced shortly. We expect that allied leaders will recognize the Ukraine is making and strongly commit to continue to provide political and practical support.”
Representatives of Hungary’s Foreign Ministry declined to respond to VOA inquiries by phone and email prior to publication.
Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, told VOA that she remains optimistic that NATO will seek continued cooperation with Ukraine.
“We meet with the alliance to discuss common challenges, to share the achievements in reform of our security and defense sector, to outline directions for further enhanced cooperation,” she told VOA. “We also hope that Ukraine’s constructive appeal to Hungary to sort out the national minorities’ education language issue in Ukraine [can be addressed] on a bilateral level, as opposed to dealing with it in multilateral formats. …
“We also believe that one of the allies has decided actually to take NATO hostage in a bilateral dispute with a Ukraine [that is actively] fighting [Russian] aggression only weakens the alliance,” Klympush-Tsintsadze said.
NATO formally invited Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the upcoming summit last month in a historic move that circumvented Hungarian efforts to block meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, allowing NATO allies to hold talks with Poroshenko outside the format of the commission.
The summit is currently slated for July 11-12 in Brussels.
This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service. Bogdan Tsioupine in London contributed to this report.