Hungarian minister defends Ukraine position in Cleverly talks

Hungarian foreign minister defends use of Russian gas and oil

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It comes as Viktor Orban’s government in Budapest has been accused of being Vladimir Putin’s allies in slowing down measures to support Ukraine against the invasion of Russia. However, speaking exclusively to the Daily Express today in a rare newspaper interview Mr Szijjártó insisted that Hungary is not siding with Russia in the war but is arguing for peace.

The Hungarian minister, who is now dealing with his sixth UK Foreign Secretary, argued that Hungary cannot stop buying Russian gas and oil because it has no alternative supplier.

Mr Szijjártó also accused Austria and the US of stopping Hungary from getting alternative sources of gas by abandoning plans to extract it from Romania despite Hungary paying for a pipeline to transport the gas.

A source close to Mr Cleverly said: “The Foreign Secretary did raise the issue of Ukraine in the talks today.

“Obviously there are some difficulties. However, he does understand the problems regarding energy supply Hungary has and puts it in a difficult position regarding this war.”

Mr Szijjártó himself has been criticised for not returning the Order of Friendship he received from Russia in 2021 before the invasion.

But pressed on Ukraine by the Daily Express, Mr Szijjártó insisted that his country is only interested in peace not siding with Russia.

He said: “We are living next door and living next door to a war means that there is a hazard for your physical security. Just look at what happened in Poland [with the recent missiles going into its territory].

“That is why our number one goal is peace as soon as possible.

“This torture of the people in Ukraine should be stopped. It is heartbreaking to see thousands of people dying and millions fleeing.”

“When we advocate for this, it is not because we are faced with this ridiculous judgement and accusations that we are in favour of the Russians.

“We don’t care about what the Russians think of our position. We only care about having a war in your neighbourhood.”

And in an apparent dig at US President Joe Biden, he added: “I understand that countries far away, hundreds of thousands of kilometres, even an ocean away, have a different position on this but they do not live in the neighbourhood.

He was also critical of EU partners for not pushing for talks.

The other 26 EU countries take the same view as the UK that Putin must be defeated in Ukraine.

But Mr Szijjártó said: “I am sad that we listen to the other 26 foreign ministers of the EU and none of them uses the word peace.”

He said that Hungary has taken in a million refugees from Ukraine and given them access to education, health and employment.

“To be faced with all the allegations, that is too much,” he added.

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Despite failed efforts to build a pipeline for gas to the Black Sea off Romania, Hungary is almost completely dependent on gas, oil and electricity from Putin’s Russia, which the foreign minister said put them in a difficult position when it comes to sanctions.

He said: “Energy is a physical issue. Our situation is determined by the physical energy structure.

“We are a small landlocked country, we are dependent on others. Unfortunately, if others don’t do their homework then we remain dependent on that source which has been the source so far.

“Russia is not a political taste, it is a physical reality.

“If we stopped buying gas from Russia, from the next day we cannot operate the country.”

The Hungarian government is also angry about the failed Black Sea project which could have given it an alternative supply.

Mr Szijjártó  said: “If the big American and Austrian companies had not left the project in Romania out of the blue and exploited the offshore (Black Sea) resources there, we would be in a different situation.

“We have even built the pipeline.

“I understand the accusations, but nobody says the alternative, because we have spent a lot of money on the alternative.

“At the end of the day you need the gas.”

However, there have been concerns about Hungary and Ukraine’s relations.

This included Prime Minister Orban recently wearing a “geater Hungary scarf” recently which included territory in Romania and Ukraine with both countries objecting.

Mr Szijjártó dismissed it as “a football scarf”.

He said: “Everybody should just take it easy. Football is football, politics is politics. Don’t confuse the two things. Noone thinks seriously that we would threaten the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our neighbouring countries.”

However, Mr Orban in his election victory speech earlier this year personally attacked President Zelensky who he felt had intervened to help the opposition coalition.

And before the war Hungary had raised concerns over the persecution of ethnic Hungarians inn Ukraine, particularly ovr  the freedom to lose their language.

Mr Szijjártó said: “Obviously before the war we didn’t have a perfect relationship because we have a significant Hungarian community living in Ukraine and the rights of them were violated on a very continuous.

“Of course once the war has broken out we have put all these issues into brackets because raising these issues during a wart is not appropriate but we have not forgotten.

“So when the war is over we will be ready to discuss these issues again.”

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