Hungary agrees not to veto NATO support to Ukraine as long as it’s not forced to help out

BRUSSELS (AP) — Hungary agreed on Wednesday not to veto NATO support for Ukraine but Prime Minister Viktor Orbán insisted that his government would provide neither funds nor military personnel for any joint assistance effort.

At a summit in Washington next month, U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts are expected to agree on a new system to provide more predictable, long-term security help and military training to Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces.

Ukraine’s Western allies are trying to bolster military support for Kyiv as Russian troops launch attacks along the more than 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, taking advantage of a lengthy delay in U.S. military aid.

“Hungary made it clear at today’s meeting that it does not want to block decisions in NATO that … are decisions shared and advocated by the other member states,” Orbán told reporters after talks in Budapest with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“I asked the Secretary-General to make it clear that all military action outside NATO territory can only be voluntary in nature, according to NATO rules and our traditions,” said Orbán, who has tried to style himself as a peacemaker. “Hungary has received the guarantees we need.”

As an organization, the world’s biggest security alliance does not send weapons or ammunition to Ukraine and has no plans to put troops on the ground. But many of its members give help on a bilateral basis, and jointly provide more than 90% of the country’s military support.

The other 31 allies see Russia’s war on Ukraine as an existential security threat to Europe, but most of them, including Biden, have been extremely cautious to ensure that NATO is not drawn into a wider conflict with Russia.

NATO operates on the basis that an attack on any single ally will be met with a response from them all.

Stoltenberg confirmed that Hungary would not take part in NATO’s plans and said: “I accept this position.” NATO’s top civilian official said he and Orbán had “agreed modalities for Hungary’s non-participation in NATO’s support for Ukraine,” but did not elaborate on how that would work.

“At the same time, the prime minister has assured me that Hungary will not oppose these efforts, enabling other allies to move forward, and he has confirmed that Hungary will continue to meet its NATO commitments in full,” Stoltenberg added.

NATO takes all its decisions by consensus, effectively giving any one of the 32 allies a veto.

U.S. envoy to NATO, Ambassador Julianne Smith, played down the impact of Hungary’s decision.

“I think the message that was delivered is not dissimilar from what we’ve heard from other allies throughout the alliance’s history. Not every member of the alliance always participates in every single NATO activity or mission,” Smith told reporters.

But Hungary’s stridently nationalist government has increasingly become a thorn in the side of NATO — and the European Union — by undermining their efforts to help Ukraine. Orbán is also holding up moves to nominate outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the alliance’s next secretary-general.

Orbán, one of the friendliest European leaders toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, has labelled his EU and NATO partners assisting Ukraine as being “pro-war.” He has also advocated for former U.S. President Donald Trump’s victory in the November election.

Since Russia’s full-fledged invasion in February 2022, Ukraine’s Western backers have routinely met as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, run by the Pentagon, to drum up weapons and ammunition for Kyiv.

Stoltenberg has spearheaded an effort to have NATO coordinate that process, partly by using the alliance’s command structure and drawing on funds from its common budget.

Plans are afoot for NATO’s leaders to commit on July 9-11 to maintain the level of military support they have provided Ukraine since the invasion began. Stoltenberg said later Wednesday that this amounts to around 40 billion euros ($43 billion) worth of equipment each year.

“The purpose of this is to make it possible to end the war,” he told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “Now, President Putin believes that he can wait us out and therefore the war continues.”

Stoltenberg said that he hoped NATO defense ministers, meeting in Brussels over two days from Thursday, would be able to seal agreement on details of the plan.

At their summit in Lithuania last year, Biden and his counterparts promised that they would “be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met.” The consensus among members is that it should not happen while war rages on.


Associated Press journalist Bela Szandelszky in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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