Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Engage Russia to remain secure, Hungarian minister warns Europe

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János Bóka tells Euronews that Europe needs to maintain “some kind of relationship” with Moscow if it is to safeguard itself.

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The European Union must engage Russia if it is to build a “sustainable security architecture”, Hungary’s minister for EU affairs, János Bóka, said on Wednesday in an interview with Euronews.

“If we are willing to build a sustainable security architecture for decades to come, somehow, the relationship between Europe and Russia needs to be devised,” Bóka said.

“We, just like all member states of the European Union, believe that we need to fully support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” he added. “I think this is beyond question, but I also believe that a sustainable security architecture is not possible without engaging Russia through diplomatic channels.”

Last Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sparked backlash from EU leaderswhen he paid a surprise visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow as part of what the Hungarian premier describes as “Peace Mission 3.0.”

The meeting with Putin followed a trip to Ukraine for similar talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The timing of the Moscow trip, days after Budapest took up the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, and the use of the EU presidency branding in communications relating to the so-called peace mission has fuelled ire in Brussels.

European Council President Charles Michel said in a scathing response that the “EU rotating presidency has no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU.”

It came days before Kyiv’s largest children’s hospital was struck in an attack which, according to a UN analysis, was caused by a direct Russian missile. At least two people were killed at the hospital and about 50 were injured, including seven children.

Pressed on whether Hungary’s overtures to Putin were appropriate given the Kremlin’s coinciding atrocities in Ukraine, Bóka replied: “The bombing, it’s horrible, it’s terrible.”

“I think the loss of human life and the damage that has been caused in this war (…) just underscores the importance of the peace mission of the prime minister of Hungary,” he explained.

Orbán was ‘in search of willingness for ceasefire’

In a letter addressed to Michel and EU leaders, seen by German news agency DPA, Orbán justified his Moscow trip given its economic knock-on effect on the 27-country bloc.

Orbán is reported to have claimed in the letter that Putin expects a rapid collapse on the Ukrainian side in the coming months.

Bóka told Euronews that the Hungarian premier’s trip was designed to “find out whether there is any willingness” on either side for a ceasefire and assess how the EU institutions can be “helpful” in brokering a way out of the conflict.

“Quite a few member states believe that our strategic objectives can be reached by military means on the battlefield. The intention of the prime minister was to provide additional information and clarification that could feed into these discussions,” Bóka said, adding that Orbán had confidentially briefed both Michel and EU heads of state and government on the outcome of his trip.

Zelenskyy has consistently said Ukraine will not contemplate talks with Moscow until Russian forces leave all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.

The minister also explained that Hungary saw China as a key actor in future peace talks despite Beijing’s role in enabling Moscow to circumnavigate Western sanctions by supplying banned components to Russia’s military sector.

The EU has already sanctioned Chinese companies forhelping the Kremlin get hold of lethal forbidden items.

European Parliament address delay ‘only a scheduling issue’

Orbán stands ready to address the newly-elected European Parliament to set out his priorities for the EU presidency, branded by the Hungarian government under the slogan “Make Europe Great Again”, the minister also said.

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It is convention for the leader of the country taking up the presidency to speak during the first plenary session of their rotation, but Orbán has not been invited to the inaugural sitting in Strasbourg scheduled for next week.

Two sources familiar with the issue told Euronews that Orbán’s speech before the hemicycle had been intentionally blocked by the Parliament amid discomfort over his trip to Russia and continuous efforts to derail EU aid to Kyiv.

But Bóka brushed off any suggestions that Orbán had been excluded for political motives, claiming that the fact that only one plenary session takes place this July makes it feasible to delay the prime minister’s speech.

“I would stop short of seeing any, any political intricacies here,” he explained. “I think it’s completely understandable that for the first session of the European Parliament, when they elect their own officials and when they elect or do not elect the president designate of the Commission, it’s perfectly clear that they have no time for this.”

“I believe that this is only a scheduling issue. I certainly don’t believe that the European Parliament is not interested in sincere cooperation between the institutions during the Hungarian presidency.”

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Full interview will be shown on Euronews’ Global Conversation show shortly

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