It is just over a year since Russian-leaning Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country after lengthy and bloody protests in Kiev because he reneged on signing a political and trade deal with the EU. Russia annexed Crimea in March last year and fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine between government troops and pro-Russian separatists. A fragile ceasefire has been in effect since last month but violations have followed. Ukraine’s Chargé d’affaires in Hungary, Mihajlo Junger, talks about the situation.
As a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Hungary is committed to the West, but by tacitly supporting Russian policy has Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán undermined Ukraine at a time when the EU has been striving for a unified political front in the face of Russian aggression?
It should be recalled that the EU and the United States introduced sanctions against Russia not to start a new “cold war” but because Russia, not the EU or the US, violated basic norms of international law, illegally annexed the Crimea, organised armed aggression against Ukraine in Donetsk and Lugansk regions, and pursues a policy of destabilisation with the far-sighted aim of preventing the release of Ukraine from the “grey” zone of its influence.
This all happened by applying the means of hybrid war, which allowed the official Moscow to claim its non-involvement and state that the annexation of the Crimea to Russia was decided by the Crimean people, and that in the eastern Ukraine, as Russian President Putin said in Budapest last month, “tractor drivers and miners” are fighting against Ukrainian government forces.
It is very important for us that in March 2014 Hungary, along with 100 other United Nations member-states, backed a resolution of the UN General Assembly regarding the condemnation of the Crimea’s annexation. During 2014 Hungary voted for all, without exception, EU decisions on sanctions against Russia. Perhaps it is about changing the rhetoric of the Hungarian government, which until last September, in fact, contained some criticism of the sanctions or, better to say, their effectiveness.
In September 2014 it became clear to everybody that there are 10,000 Russian soldiers in the eastern Ukraine, separatists from Russia are supplied with latest weapons, manufactured only in Russia, and without political interference and financial support of Russia this conflict would have never taken place. The leaders of the EU and NATO started to voice these facts, and the European Parliament and the Council of Europe officially condemned Russia’s military presence on the territory of Ukraine.
What happened next?
It was then, when we heard a clear position of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, stating unambiguously and publicly that Hungary is not against sanctions and will implement all the respective decisions of the EU. We cannot deny the effectiveness of the EU and US sanctions against Russia. Of course, the sanctions themselves are designed to resolve the conflict as a whole. However, they certainly bear not only economic but also political sense, because they have shown that the democratic world condemns the policy of Russia on Ukraine. Due to sanctions, we managed to launch the negotiations with the participation of Russia. It is very important to remember this. Therefore, it is rather about a certain development of the rhetoric of Hungarian authorities than a significant change in the political position, which has not been the subject to change and is aimed at supporting Ukraine.
As for the contacts between Hungary and Russia, it is a well-known position. As it is explained to us, this position is based purely on economic interests. The main thing is to keep a balance between economic interests and European, democratic, Christian values, which are the basis of many EU member-states.
It should be well remembered that it was the desire of the Ukrainian people to become part of the EU that was the main reason for the beginning of the Euromaidan and its struggle against the corrupt and pro-Russian government of Yanukovych. After Yanukovych’s government had been toppled, the pro-European orientation of Ukrainians caused Russian military aggression against our country. The circle closes.
Therefore, theoretically, any democratic state, which aims to maintain beneficial economic ties with a country, whose leadership organised armed aggression against their common neighbour, denying the right of this country to democracy, must realise that in this way it creates grounds to doubt its commitments to democratic values. In this case, a state that has its national minority in the country that suffers from aggression, obviously is not supposed to contribute to the economic strengthening of the aggressor country. These, of course, are general formulas, and each state, more precisely each government, adopts its own decisions in its sole discretion and with regard to its responsibility.
Do you agree with the Hungarian government’s enactment of law allowing Hungarians living abroad to apply for Hungarian citizenship? Do you believe Orbán’s contention that his interests in Russia are purely economic? Does he want self-governance for Hungarian minorities abroad?
I believe I have reasons to say there is no problem of the Hungarian national minority in Ukraine. Just as there is no problem with any other minority, even Russian! Ukraine has the right to say this because in 2010 the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek at the request of a number of countries, including Russia, visited Ukraine and met with the representatives of all national minorities, and his staff conducted a “field “research.
In his official report the High Commissioner noted that Ukraine ensured the rights of national minorities at the level of the European standards. Of course, not everything is perfect, there are some problems, but they not only pose no danger, but also no significant complications to preserve the national and cultural identity of the national minorities. The same applies to the ethnic Hungarians: they have everything that a minority can have under the law: education in their native language from kindergarten to university, newspapers, television programmes. There is a Hungarian theatre in Beregovo. Settlements got back their historical names, which are written both in Ukrainian and Hungarian languages. At will of the community at the beginning of solemn meetings the Hungarian anthem, alongside the Ukrainian, can be performed, and the Hungarian flag can be hoisted together with the Ukrainian one. In this case the flag of Hungary is not considered as a sign of the Hungarian state, but only a national symbol.
Are there any other measures?
All other problems are successfully solved in the framework of the Intergovernmental Commission on Ensuring National Minorities’ Rights. According to the agreement between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the Society of the Hungarian Culture in Transcarpathia (the largest organisation of Hungarians in Ukraine) of May 2014, the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia received its representative in the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) of Ukraine. An inter-parliamentary friendship group has been established in the parliaments of Ukraine and Hungary, which will be another important tool for our co-operation to ensure the rights of Ukrainians in Hungary and Hungarians in Ukraine.
It is no wonder that the issue of ensuring the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine in a situation of Russian aggression against our country is constantly on the agenda of the political leadership of Hungary. Perhaps, there are primarily internal reasons for it. I am not aware of the fact that other countries that also have significant national minorities in Ukraine made such statements with a similar insistence on the highest political level. Moreover, some of Hungary’s partners among the Visegrad countries made it clear that the timing for such statements was not the best, taking into account the fact that the Ukrainian people became the object of an audacious aggression.
Everyone understands that Ukraine needs peace. But we must not forget that the current tragedy began as a hybrid war. Therefore we need not a hybrid but a just peace, when the national sovereignty, territorial integrity will be ensured and no one will question the right of the people to decide their own fate and membership in the political and economic unions. I am sure that the Ukrainian Hungarians also wish that their Ukrainian homeland was approaching Europe, not to Eurasia.
Does Russia’s offensive military doctrine threaten Eastern Europe, for instance British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Russia is “a real and present danger” to the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of which are NATO members.
In Russia’s new military doctrine of December 2014 the military conflict is described as a complex usage of military force, political, economic, informational and other non-military measures implemented with extensive use of public protest potential and special operations forces. This is an accurate description of Russia’s actions in conflict escalation on Ukrainian territory – in the Crimea and in the eastern Ukraine.
Despite the fact that the doctrine declared readiness to cooperate with NATO, Russia simultaneously recognises the Alliance as a main source of danger. The overall atmosphere of hatred and intolerance, which is cultivated by the Russian authorities, murder and intimidation of opposition politicians create favourable conditions for the formation of hostility to neighbouring countries in Russian society. Therefore, one should listen to the British minister’s opinion regarding the significant danger to the Baltic countries. It can also be an intimidation, so that the Baltic countries, which actively support Ukraine within the EU, changed their position to a more moderate one.
After all, this is a military-political blackmail. That is why there is an urgent need to join forces of the whole democratic civilised world to stop the dangerous developments. To this end we should demand that Russia and Russia-backed terrorists fully implement the Minsk agreements aimed to settle the conflict peacefully; especially taking into account the fact that Ukraine has already fulfilled key points regarding the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons from the boundary line. The Russia-backed forces, on the contrary, do not comply with conditions of Minsk agreements. During the recent days separatists intensified combat activities in the anti-terrorist operation zone. So, it is Russia’s turn now.
The trouble started after Viktor Yanukovych reneged on signing a political and trade deal with the European Union. What has been achieved since then, government-wise?
The key task of the Ukrainian authorities is the full and comprehensive reform of the state. It is intended to contribute to the successful implementation of Ukraine’s obligations under the Association Agreement with the EU and is a response to the desire of Ukrainian society to live in a legal, democratic and prosperous state.
Russian aggression against Ukraine should not and will not be an insurmountable obstacle to reform. We realise that the success in transforming Ukraine is the best response to the Kremlin’s attempts to stop the development of our country. The reform process in Ukraine is carried out in accordance with that adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Action Program of the Government of Ukraine, based on the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.
The Program defines basic principles of reforms in the security, administrative, anti-corruption, law enforcement, judicial, economic, energy and social spheres. Implementation of reforms in Ukraine was made possible by a joint position in approaches to reforms of the President of Ukraine, Government, Parliament and civil society. Given the difficult economic situation, Ukraine needs financial assistance to carry out reforms and preserve social stability. On March 11 IMF’s managing director Christine Lagarde announced the decision to grant Ukraine credit of around 17.5 billion USD.
So are you confident?
It is a positive sign. The first tranche of the IMF credit under the new four-year Extended Facility program (EFF) will amount to about 5 billion USD and will be allocated within the next couple of days. We plan to direct around 2.7 billion USD to support the budget. National Bank of Ukraine will receive 2.3 billion USD. Other sources of assistance to Ukraine in the amount of 7.5 billion USD envisage the financing from the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, the United States, European Union, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Germany and Poland. Thus, in general, within four years, Ukraine will receive 25 billion USD.
We have high hopes for the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit. We believe that at this summit we must reach a clear vision of further ways of EU’s assistance in the implementation of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. The decision to introduce a visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens should become a very important message to the Ukrainian people. This means that the EU-28 is in solidarity with Ukraine in its fight for the right to European integration and supports the contribution of our country to the strengthening of the democratic values.