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Germany, Hungary spar as tensions mount over blocked Ukraine aid

Germany, Hungary spar as tensions mount over blocked Ukraine aid

by host

Germany and Hungary quarreled Monday during a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels over the role a controversial Hungarian bank is playing in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to four diplomats familiar with the exchange.

The bank, OTP, has become a focal point for officials in recent days as Hungary is refusing to approve more EU military aid for Ukraine until Kyiv removes the company from a “war sponsors” list it maintains. Diplomats also say the dispute is delaying new Russia sanctions. 

When Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó reiterated Budapest’s stance on Monday during the closed-door gathering, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock shot back, according to the diplomats, who spoke anonymously to describe the exchange. 

They said she cited unspecified reports that OTP recognizes the Russian-occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk — contravening international law — and has extended credit lines to Russian soldiers. 

Hungary rejected the accusations, echoing the bank itself, which has called the reports “not correct” in a statement and argued the bank’s management “expresses its support for Ukraine publicly.”

Still, the exchange, described by one of the diplomats as “civilized and in a normal framework of the discussion,” took place after other countries like Sweden and Estonia had also pressed Hungary during the meeting. They argued the EU must not stall on further sanctions — which are designed to crack down on circumvention — and more military aid for Ukraine. 

The dispute reflects the mounting frustration other EU countries have toward Hungary, which has thrown a wrench into numerous war-time moves to punish Russia and bolster Ukraine. While Budapest has typically relented after receiving concessions, the numerous delays have left many exasperated.

Some diplomats and ministers on Monday vented their feelings publicly, as well, urging Hungary to decouple its friction with Kyiv over the “war sponsors” list from the EU’s attempt to approve more military aid and sanctions. 

“We cannot delay the sanctions,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters ahead of the meeting. “There are some countries who connect unrelated issues, like the naming and shaming campaign, to the sanctions package.”

One diplomat expressed confusion over why Hungary has latched onto the Ukrainian list, given it has no legal bearing.

Following the meeting, Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, vowed to work through the differences. EU officials have said they expect Borrell to reach out to Kyiv to discuss the matter as well.

“We have to do everything we can in order to [get] the next package of military support to Ukraine … approved,” he told reporters. “If one member state has a difficulty, let’s discuss about it, that’s what we are going to do.”

EU defense ministers will discuss the bloc’s military support for Ukraine in a meeting on Tuesday. 

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