Hungary PM says Europe 'drifting into' Ukraine war

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered his annual State of the Nation speech to supporters in Budapest, on Feb 18, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

BUDAPEST - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Saturday that Europe was “indirectly at war with Russia”, as several European countries pledge to send battle tanks to help Ukraine fight Moscow’s invasion.

The nationalist leader, who was re-elected in 2022 for a fourth consecutive term, reiterated that being a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) member was “vital” for Hungary, but said his government would not send arms to Ukraine or sever its economic relations with Moscow.

Landlocked Hungary is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas and crude oil imports, and Russian energy giant Rosatom is building a nuclear plant in the country based on a 2014 contract.

Mr Orban, who last met Russian President Vladimir Putin just three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022, projected that the war could drag on for years.

“Europe is drifting into the war in these very minutes; it is doing a dangerous balancing act,” he told his supporters in a speech. “Actually, they are in fact already indirectly at war with Russia.”

He added: “It started with helmets... now we are at sending tanks, and fighter jets are on the agenda, and soon we will hear about so-called peacekeeping troops.”

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said earlier last week that Western nations had pledged 48 Leopard 2 tanks for Kyiv.

Mr Orban said the stance of Poland and the Baltic states with respect to the war was understandable. But he said the conflict could have unfolded differently if a guarantee had been given that Ukraine would not be admitted to Nato. He criticised European Union sanctions again for harming the Hungarian economy.

“A year ago, the West decided otherwise. When Russia launched an attack, the West did not isolate the conflict, but lifted it onto an all-European level. It could have treated it as a local regional war, or a military conflict between two Slavic nations as Hungary suggested,” said Mr Orban.

“What happened is another argument against the Brussels super-state and in favour of strong nation states,” he added, before turning to the health of the Hungarian economy.

Despite inflation running at an annual 25.7 per cent in January, he said his government would bring the rate down to a single-digit level by the end of 2023.

He also said that an existing cap on mortgage rates would have to remain in place until interest rates – the EU’s highest – start to come down. REUTERS

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