(Liberty Bell) – A top Hungarian official is slamming allegations that Prime Minister Viktor Orban encouraged an antagonistic view of Ukraine on the part of President Trump, joking about the assertion while calling into question the credibility of a key impeachment witness.
“This is a great honor for us, to be honest, that we were portrayed as a central European country which can change the position of the president of the United States,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto quipped in an interview with the Washington Examiner at this week’s NATO Leaders’ Meeting.
“It can be taken as an honor. Well, I’m afraid it has distance from reality, to be honest,” he added.
The Washington Examiner explains:
Orban emerged as an unlikely player in the Ukraine impeachment controversy in October, when a senior State Department official testified that the Hungarian leader had contributed to Trump’s distaste for Ukraine. George Kent, one of the State Department’s top officials for Europe, told lawmakers that Orban echoed Russian President Vladimir Putin in portraying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as in a “thrall” of corruption.
“He’s not that credible in this regard,” Szijjarto said of Kent, whom he noted did not attend Orban’s May 13 meeting with Trump. “Simply because he was not there. I was there, he was not there.”
Kent’s testimony raised the curtain on Orban’s “animus” for Ukraine, an issue that is little-noticed in the United States but important for American and European diplomats. Orban has impeded NATO cooperation with Ukraine, on the grounds that the Ukrainian government discriminates against ethnic Hungarians. The charge derives from a pair of laws promoting the Ukrainian language in government business and secondary education. The legislation was aimed at diminishing the influence of the Russian language in the former Soviet country, but Orban has been implacable.
“Viktor Orban’s beef with Ukraine is derived in part [from] his vision, in my opinion, of a greater Hungary,” Kent noted, explaining that a majority of ethnic Hungarians have lived outside of their nation since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire during the First World War.
“This issue of greater Hungary is at the top of Orban’s agenda. And so he has picked this particular issue and, for instance, blocked all meetings in NATO with Ukraine at the ministerial level or above because of this particular issue. So, his animus towards Ukraine is well-known, documented, and has lasted now two years.”
Kent had testified that the Hungarian leader attacked Zelensky “personally” during his meeting with Trump.
“Both Putin and Orban extensively talked Ukraine down, said it was corrupt, said Zelensky was in the thrall of oligarchs,” he said in his Oct. 15 deposition.
Szijjarto denies this claim. “It’s absolutely not true,” he said. “He didn’t reinforce a bad picture about Ukraine. He was very realistic. He was absolutely not rude or negative on Ukraine.”
The Washington Examiner adds:
An official from another NATO member state who follows Ukraine issues closely argued that Kent is more credible than Szijjarto. “I wouldn’t call them supporters of Ukraine,” the European official said of Orban’s government. “NATO things, you shouldn’t put the linkage here. If every country put NATO hostage to their bilateral disagreement, then NATO loses its whole concept and effectiveness.”
Szijjarto maintained that Orban would stop vetoing NATO meetings with Ukraine if Zelensky repeals the laws they oppose.
“We had, and we still have, good hopes when it comes to President Zelensky, because we think that he can be a game-changer,” he said. “We cross fingers for his success.”
Featured image credit: European People’s Party – flickr.com/photos/eppofficial/9298443437