‘Turkey, Hungary seek diplomatic solution, cooperate on Ukraine war’
Ankara and Budapest, which share a similar stance regarding the war between Russia and Ukraine, are striving for a diplomatic solution that will return calm and peace in the region, Hungary’s foreign minister says.
Adiplomatic solution and a negotiated agreement are essential to ending the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said, voicing appreciation for Turkey’s efforts in this regard and the potential for cooperation.
“We still believe in the diplomatic solution. That is why we cherish and really respect the efforts of the president of Turkey and the foreign minister of Turkey to facilitate peace talks and to convince the parties to come to an agreement because the sooner we come to a negotiated agreement the sooner can this war end and the least people will die – this is the most important issue for us,” Szijjarto told Daily Sabah in an interview.
“We are a country that is a direct neighbor of Ukraine and every minute spent with war in Ukraine puts a security risk on Hungary. That is why it is our basic interest to end the war in Ukraine as soon as possible,” he said.
Turkey is one of the most active countries working to ensure a permanent cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia. Its delicately balanced act of assuming a role as a mediator by keeping communication channels with both warring sides open provides a glimmer of hope in diplomatic efforts to find a solution and achieve peace in the Ukraine crisis. While Ankara has opposed international sanctions designed to isolate Moscow, it also closed its straits to prevent some Russian vessels from crossing through them. Both Ankara and Budapest continue contact with Moscow while strongly opposing the invasion.
Speaking on NATO’s position on the war, Szijjarto said: “We have to make everything in order to avoid NATO becoming a party to this conflict. We do have to avoid an open NATO-Russia clash because if we cannot avoid that, it can have tragic consequences.” He added that Hungary supports the fact that NATO as an alliance, does not send weapons to the war.
“What the member states are doing is based on their national competence and sovereign decision, but as an alliance, we have to make our best to avoid being a party to the conflict,” he said, explaining that Budapest therefore also argued against an air control mechanism.
“This would have ended up in a war in the air. That is why we have argued against troops to be sent under peacekeeping mission operation to Ukraine because that would have meant war on the ground between Russia and the alliance which we have to prevent.”
Hungary, a European state bordering Ukraine, has refused to provide it with weaponry – armaments are also not allowed to transit Hungarian territory while having condemned Moscow’s invasion of Kyiv and having taken in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
“We allow all refugees from Ukraine to enter the territory of Hungary. We have had more than 600,000 so far and we allow all of them to come because they have the right to come since we are a neighboring country and since we are good Christian people – we help those in need as Turkey helps everybody in need as well,” Szijjarto said.
However, the minister emphasized that a clear line must be drawn between refugees from Ukraine and illegal migrants.
“We are protecting our southern border very strongly. That is why we respect the decisions of the Turkish government to build a wall on the southern border and that is why we respect a lot your efforts to ensure migrants can return to their homes. We support this policy,” he said, referring to Ankara’s efforts to enhance living conditions in northern Syria’s safe zones so Syrian refugees, of which Turkey hosts close to 4 million, can return to their homes.
Szijjarto explained that refugees whose lives are at risk or facing oppression are entitled to stay in the first safe country they enter according to international law, however, they should not continue to migrate from one safe country to the next.
“We will push and argue in Brussels in favor of paying all the 6 billion euros to Turkey as soon as possible, because, without you, it will be a much bigger challenge to stop the illegal migratory flows,” Szijjarto said. “We argue in favor of paying everything to Turkey – not to the NGOs but paying to the state of Turkey because it is the state’s obligation and the state’s responsibility to act in the favor of the country’s security.”
In March 2016, Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement to reduce the number of migrants to Europe and find a solution for the influx of migrants. According to the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in financial aid, however, Ankara has frequently complained that the European Union has not fully delivered on its commitments stated in the deal.
Commenting on the strong economic and trade ties between Turkey and Hungary, Szijjarto highlighted that the countries broke records last year.
“The 2021 trade turnover between the two countries has approached $4 billion – which has never been the case before. That was a 17% growth last year and we have increased our exports by 21% to Turkey which has reached $2.5 billion and your exports to Hungary which was 1.5 billion euros was the highest figure also.”
Indicating that progress is being made, Szijjarto underlined the importance of financing business-to-business cooperation.
He also mentioned that a quadrilateral partnership between Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary is being established for rail transportation. “When it comes to the east to west transportation, now the deliveries through Ukraine are struggling. We have to look for an alternative route – and this could be one.”
He added that Budapest relied on Ankara regarding the transit of gas.
“We are continuing our projects in Africa, in Ghana and Kenya we have already completed projects, so now we are looking for another target country where our companies can continue.”
“The number of Turkish investments in Hungary is increasing and now Hungarian companies are finding their ways to invest in Turkey as well,” he added.
On defense cooperation, Szijjarto said: “We have some projects already ongoing in Hungary such as the production of armored vehicles.”
Turkish armored vehicles manufacturer Nurol Makina has made its debut in the European market by launching its first company abroad in Hungary recently. Domestically manufactured armored vehicles had entered the inventory of Hungary in September 2019 as it became the sixth country in the world and the first country in the EU to choose the vehicle.
‘Interference in elections’
Szijjarto also commented on the recent general elections in Hungary earlier in the month in which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party won more than two-thirds of all parliamentary seats in general elections on April 3. This marked another landslide victory despite a six-party opposition uniting to try to unseat Orban. Hungary is a member of both the European Union and NATO.
“We have experienced a very serious attempt to interfere in our election process from abroad. I think the actors behind these attacks are almost the same compared to those external actors who tried to interfere into domestic issues here in Turkey as well,” Szijjarto said in reference to the recent elections.
“We all know that the international liberal mainstream cannot stand the patriotic approach of a government. So, patriotic governments like yours or ours have to face the challenges put forth and the attacks put forth by the international liberal mainstream.”
Saying that Hungary’s goal is not to satisfy the representatives of the international liberal mainstream but to satisfy its own voters, Szijjarto dismissed the attacks.
“In our case, all opposition parties have united from the far-right to the far-left. The leader – the candidate – of them has made it very clear that fascists and communists can be involved into his movement by keeping their own profile. So, with our election victory, we have prevented Hungary from extremists being involved in the government from both ends of the political landscape.”
On the stances displayed regarding the Ukraine-Russia war during elections, Szijjarto said that there were two contrasting views.
“Our party, the government, has made it clear that our major goal is to ensure the security of Hungary and the Hungarian people. That is why we are standing by Ukraine – it is our number one goal to avoid Hungary being involved into this conflict. That is why we have decided not to send troops, not to send weapons and do not allow weapon deliveries through Hungary,” he explained.
“The opposition has represented a totally different position,” Szijjarto said, indicating that the opposition favored the sending and transit of weapons through the country.
“Hungarian people had a very clear choice to be made and we have received an overwhelming support, record number of votes in our history and a record number of MPs,” he added, highlighting that not being a coalition would increase the effectiveness of the government.
Szijjarto also voiced hope for the continuation of Turkey’s current government “because we are now living the golden times of our cooperation and we do not want to lose the momentum.”
The war between Moscow and Kyiv also revived discussions about Ukraine’s westernmost region of Transcarpathia, where a significant ethnic Hungarian minority resides.
“We are not revisionist,” Szijjarto underlined. “Those accusations which are being put on us are stupid and we reject them,” he said, adding, however, that Hungary is “definitely” interested in Hungarians in Transcarpathia enjoying all the rights they did in the past.
“The problem is that before the war, the Ukrainian parliament has passed regulations which have diminished the rights of the Hungarians. This is war time now, so we are not raising this issue but once the war is over we would like to discuss these issues again in order to guarantee the security of the Hungarians in Transcarpathia and guarantee their rights,” the minister said.
A controversial 2017 language law was seen by Hungarians as discriminatory.
Szijjarto suggested last year that the two countries set up a working group to solve the dispute over the law, which effectively eliminated the use of Hungarian and other minority languages in schools after fourth grade.
Transcarpathia, cut off from the rest of Ukraine by the Carpathian mountains, was governed by Budapest until after World War I.
It then changed hands several times, falling under Soviet rule after World War II when thousands of Ukrainians and Russians were settled in the region.
Around 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) from Kyiv and bordering Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, it finally became part of independent Ukraine in 1991.