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'It has gone very far:' EU countries voice exasperation over Hungary's vetoes on Ukraine aid

Hungary's Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, pictured left, has angered his colleagues for blocking EU military assistance to Ukraine.
Hungary's Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, pictured left, has angered his colleagues for blocking EU military assistance to Ukraine. Copyright European Union, 2024.
Copyright European Union, 2024.
By Jorge Liboreiro
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Hungary continues to veto EU military assistance to Ukraine, preventing member states from getting their donations partially reimbursed.

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Foreign affairs ministers of the European Union did not mince words on Monday when expressing their exasperation about Hungary's long-running veto on military assistance for Ukraine, covering €6.5 billion.

"It has gone very, very far," said Lithuania's Gabrielius Landsbergis.

The blockage began a year ago when Budapest refused to endorse a €500-million tranche under the European Peace Facility (EPF), an off-budget tool that allows member states to obtain partial reimbursements for the military equipment they send to Kyiv.

The dispute, which has caused a great deal of frustration among EU diplomats, was exacerbated after member states reached in March a hard-fought deal to top up the EPF with an additional €5 billion, designed to be rolled out until the end of the year.

Hungary's veto on the €500-million envelope has affected two others of the same size, amounting to €1.5 billion in total. The impasse also means the next €5 billion cannot move forward, creating an across-the-board obstruction of EU aid. As a result, countries have shifted to bilateral donations that bypass Brussels.

The delays have become an embarrassment for the bloc, as Ukraine battles a new hard-hitting offensive by Russian troops in the northeast region and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleads with the West to step up supplies of weapons and ammunition.

On Saturday, Russian air strikes against a supermarket in Kharkiv killed at least 16 people and left 65 injured, according to local authorities.

Frustration grows

"We cannot accept that a single country, which also signed in favour of this amount a few months ago during a summit between heads of state, is now blocking this crucial aid for Ukraine," said Belgium's Hadja Lahbib, upon arriving at the meeting.

"We must absolutely assume our responsibilities and do what is necessary to help Ukraine militarily," she added.

Her Estonian counterpart, Margus Tsahkna, said that "every time" ministers come to Brussels, they are faced with Hungary's vetoes on "very important initiatives." 

"We have to take down the (blockage) in the meaning that we have to convince Hungary. But it's crucial that Ukraine needs this kind of support," Tsahkna told reporters.

Latvia's Baiba Braže said the EU's political unity should translate into "actual, practical deliverables" and lamented a "number of issues" being held up in the Council.

"We expect those member states to relent," she said.

Lithuania's Landsbergis delivered the most scathing assessment, decrying the Hungarian attitude as a "systematic approach towards any efforts by the EU to have any meaningful role in foreign affairs." The minister referred to Ukraine's accession process and Georgia's "foreign influence" law as instances in which Budapest attempted to derail collective decisions.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has defied the Western consensus by conducting overt Russian-friendly policy and demanding concessions to water down sanctions.

"It's not case by case. And we have to start talking about this," Landsbergis said. "I know that in some cases it might look as a non-diplomatic thing to do because, you know, we're kind people and polite people."

'A problem of human lives'

The reasons for the veto have baffled officials in Brussels. Budapest initially refused to approve the €500-million tranche because Ukraine's anti-corruption agency had blacklisted Hungary's OTP Bank as an "international sponsor of war."

The designation infuriated Orbán's government and triggered a spat between Budapest and Kyiv, with Brussels awkwardly caught in the middle.

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OTP Bank was eventually removed from the name-shaming catalogue but Hungary kept its veto firmly in place, arguing it needed unconditional guarantees it would not happen again. On Monday, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó upped the ante and claimed Hungarian companies were "systematically discriminated against" in Ukraine.

Szijjártó acknowledged a "huge row" with his German, Lithuanian, Irish and Polish colleagues had taken place during the meeting and vowed to stand his ground.

"We continue to insist on the need to make peace, to stop the senseless killing and to prevent the escalation of this war, so we have not and will not contribute to the release of another €6.5 billion to finance arms shipments to Ukraine," he said.

Diplomats have rolled their eyes at Hungary's reasoning, which they see as capricious and unfounded. They now fear the EPF obstruction could derail the new agreement to use the extraordinary revenues stemming from Russia's immobilised assets.

The project could raise between €2.5 billion and €3 billion annually, 90% of which would go into supplies of weapons and ammunition for Ukraine.

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While Budapest did not block the legal deal on immobilised assets, it could still use its veto power to thwart the release of fresh money.

At the end of Monday's meeting, Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, said that any move should be "proportional with the issue at stake" and called on Hungary to break the gridlock, which has led to "seven legal texts pending of approval." He noted that Budapest had secured an "opt-out" clause to ensure its national contributions would not finance any sort of military equipment bound to Kyiv.

"We cannot let the European Union's military support for Ukraine be taken hostage by other decisions which have nothing to do with this specific issue," Borrell said.

"Ukraine needs the arms now, not next year," he went on. "This delay can be measured in terms of human lives. It's not a financial problem. It's a problem of human lives."

This article has been updated with more reactions.

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