Hungarian FM on Russia’s war in Ukraine: “We want peace, not another sanctions package”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is not ruling out vetoing a ninth package of sanctions against Russia over its war on Ukraine – a package currently being prepared by the EU, along with a proposed price cap on Russian oil. “We want peace, not another [sanctions] package,” he says. “We are a direct neighbor of Ukraine. The impact of the war on us is immediate and serious,” he claims. Szijjarto defends his country’s close energy ties with Moscow and responds to the EU’s continued allegations of corruption. The day after this interview was recorded, the president of the European Commission announced that she is recommending to Parliament the freezing of payments to Hungary under the EU pandemic recovery fund as well as under the EU’s regular cohesion funds due to rule of law problems in Hungary.

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Asked whether his recent speech at an energy forum in sanctions-hit Russia sent the wrong signal to his EU partners, Szijjarto replied: “We have always considered the energy issue as physical, not ideological. The fact that we are cooperating with Russia is not because of our political taste, or for fun, but because of the infrastructure determination of the region. If you look at a map of Central Europe, in terms of pipelines, in terms of networks, you understand very clearly that, for my country, it is impossible to supply enough with oil and gas without Russia.”

As for those in the EU criticizing Hungary for collaborating with the Russian nuclear company ROSATOM to expand the PAKS nuclear power plant in Hungary, Szijjarto replied: “They are hypocrites. When we put together the current sanctions regime – I mean we as the European Union – we made it clear that the peaceful, commercial use of nuclear energy does not fall under the sanctions regime. It’s written there!”

On rule of law issues and corruption claims against Hungary, Szijjarto discussed the package of 17 “remedial measures” that Budapest has put on the table, to unblock billions of euros of EU funds earmarked for Hungary. “There was agreement on an almost complete list,” he said. “We put all the drafts on the agenda for [Hungarian] Parliament. The Riksdag has worked with them. I am quite confident that we will be able to pass these 17 regulations. Then the ball will be in the European Commission’s court.”

The minister also responded to a November 17 written assessment by a cross-party panel of MEPs that said the Hungarian government had implemented only three of the 17 corrective measures: “The European Parliament is not a stakeholder,” he continued. “The European Parliament is a political body that makes political judgments, based on a left-wing majority. They hate us, politically, because we’ve had a conservative, Christian Democratic government in place for the last 12 years, and besides, we’re successful.”

Produced by Perrine Desplats, Isabelle Romero and Sophie Samaille

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