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Orban claims Russian invasion of Ukraine is not war

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk December 21, 2023 5:12 PM 3 min read
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban holds his annual press conference in the Carmelita monastery, the office of the Hungarian premier, in Budapest on Dec. 21, 2023. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a war, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed on Dec. 21 while speaking at an annual press conference in Budapest.

Hungary is one of the few European countries that has maintained close ties with Russia since it launched its full-scale invasion against Ukraine in February 2022. Budapest has repeatedly opposed sanctions against Moscow and obstructed EU support for Kyiv.

"There was no declaration of war between the two countries. When Russia declares war then there will be war," he said.

"We should be happy that war was not declared, because then there will be general mobilization in Russia. I don't wish this on anyone."

Orban instead described the invasion as a "military operation," echoing the term the Kremlin uses to refer to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Orban said he had accepted President Volodymyr Zelensky's invitation for a bilateral meeting. He already met Russian leader Vladimir Putin in October in Beijing.

At the EU Council Summit in Brussels on Dec. 14, Orban effectively abstained from the vote to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, claiming that "EU membership for Ukraine is a bad decision." The next day, he blocked a 50 billion euro ($55 billion) EU package for Ukraine.

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During the press conference on Dec. 21, Orban claimed that this amount "is not available" and the EU would have to take out a loan to finance the package. The spending on the package could "crush" the EU budget, according to Orban.

He also claimed that the EU was "blackmailing" Hungary. Brussels is currently withholding EU funds for Budapest due to human rights issues, but on Dec. 13 unblocked part of the funds that were originally frozen due to rule-of-law concerns.

"Hungary fulfills all the qualities of the rule of law" and is "cooperative" when the EU points out the need to implement specific reforms, according to Orban.

"You cannot blame me for doing everything I can to promote Hungary's interests in such a blackmailed situation," he alleged.

Orban also denied that Turkey and Hungary are working together concerning Sweden's NATO membership.

"There is no Hungarian-Turkish agreement," Orban said. The decision will be made by parliament "when lawmakers decide the time has come for it. They didn't have a great willingness to make this decision."

Both Sweden and Finland applied to join the alliance in May 2022 following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Finland was admitted as a member in March 2023.

Erdogan signed a protocol on Sweden's NATO accession on Oct. 23, which was then sent to parliament for final ratification.

The parliament then delayed a vote on the issue, with Turkish lawmakers saying that Sweden's accession was not as urgent for Turkey as it was for other countries, echoing Budapest's claims that there is "no rush" to bring Sweden into NATO.

US has ‘concerns’ about Hungary’s ‘sovereignty’ law
The U.S. State Department released a statement expressing concern about Hungary’s adoption of a “Sovereign Defense Authority” law that contains “draconian” provisions that could be used to degrade civil liberties, spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Dec. 20.
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