Hungary did not veto Ukraine’s recently-granted elevated NATO partnership status because the two countries’ political issues are separate from the military cooperation, one high-ranking Hungarian diplomat close to the talks told conservative Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet.
Last Friday, NATO granted Ukraine the rank of Enhanced Opportunities Partner (EOP), a distinctive form of cooperation that recognizes the significant contributions of the chosen countries to NATO-led operations and missions.
“This decision recognizes Ukraine’s strong contributions to NATO missions, and demonstrates the Alliance’s continued commitment to its partnerships despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu said. The EOP is tailored to the specifics of a partnership with each country and has so far been granted to Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan, and Sweden.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense has released an earlier freeze on an $250 million military aid to Ukraine.
Hungary and Ukraine have been at loggerheads because of minority rights issues since 2017 when Ukraine passed its new language bill, severely limiting the use of minority languages in public life and schools. While the law was designed with Ukraine’s sizeable Russian minority in mind, it has the same detrimental effect on the ethnic Hungarian minority living there.
In response, Hungary has since been blocking any NATO-Ukraine meeting higher than ambassadorial level.
“We regard the EOP a matter of military cooperation, not a political one,” the diplomat told Magyar Nemzet. “But Hungary also notified NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the allied nations that it is maintaining its veto on ministerial-level NATO-Ukraine meetings.”
While the Hungarian diplomat did not mention it, the change in Hungary’s position is probably due to Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky’s visit to Budapest scheduled for July, which is expected to bring a breakthrough in bilateral relations. Currently, expert-level talks are underway between the two countries to find a workable compromise on minority rights issues.
Title image: A Ukrainian special forces team moves in unison and prepares to rescue a hostage Sept. 20 during the multinational Rapid Trident exercise involving NATO and Ukrainian troops in Sept. 2019 in Yavoriv, Ukraine. (source: Eddie Siguenza/U.S. Army National Guard)