The defense ministers of fellow EU and NATO members Latvia and Hungary have shared a blunt exchange of views over their respective countries’ approach to the conflict in Ukraine in which Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks accused Hungary of “treason.”
Hungarian Defense Minister Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky hit back at the accusation, reminding his Latvian counterpart that it is Hungarian fighter jets which are defending Baltic air space.
“I refuse to allow anyone to condemn or threaten Hungary. We have the right to represent our national interest, peace,” said Szalay-Bobrovniczky. “I respectfully suggest to my colleague Artis Pabriks that he look up to the sky instead,” he added.
“The airspace policing tasks of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are carried out by the Hungarian Air Force under NATO command. We will not tolerate unfair criticism of Hungary.”
In an interview with Radio Free Europe’s Russian-language Current Time program, Pabriks sharply criticized EU countries that have refused military aid to Ukraine.
“Bulgaria and Hungary’s stance is incomprehensible, tantamount to treason,” the Latvian minister said.
He stressed that “Ukraine is fighting for Europe, for democracy, for human rights, and if someone in Europe does not understand this, he is not only going against the interests of Ukraine, but also those of Latvia”. He added that “if the countries concerned, members of the European Union and NATO, oppose the interests of my country, what else is it but treason?”
Ukraine has suspended most elements of democracy, including banning 11 opposition parties. Ukraine’s top opposition leader was placed under house arrest and a number of media outlets were closed even before the war broke out. Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist elements have since placed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on a “kill list,” and President Volodymyr Zelensky has been accused of attempting to influence the election process for April 3 national elections in Hungary.
Hungary has argued that it does not want to be involved in the war in Ukraine, saying that it is not Hungary’s war to fight. Orbán has pointed out that sanctions have harmed Europeans more than Russians and that sanctions on Russia should be repealed by the end of the year.
Four Gripen fighter jets of the Hungarian Defense Forces, with a total of 50 Hungarian soldiers, will guard the Baltic airspace for a third spell from Aug. 1 until the end of November as part of the NATO commitment.
The joint permanent mission of the NATO member states, which has been operating since 2004, has the dual objective of increasing the sense of security in the countries of the region — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — and improving the cooperation capabilities of the allied and partner forces.