Hungary Refuses To Ratify Sweden’s NATO Membership

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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News

BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Legislators of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s party boycotted an opposition-initiated parliamentary session on Sweden’s entry into NATO, ensuring further delays and more tensions between lone holdout Hungary and other allies of the military alliance.

Watched by Western diplomats, the opposition parties occupied just dozens of the 199 seats in Parliament, where the ruling Fidesz party and its smaller Christian Democratic allies have a two-thirds majority.

Soon after, a visibly irritated U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman, told reporters waiting outside in a windy Budapest that Orbán had pledged to ratify Sweden’s membership.

He said Sweden’s NATO accession is an issue “that directly affects the United States’ national security and also the security of the alliance.”

Pressman stressed that “the prime minister pledged to convene parliament, to urge parliament to act at its earliest opportunity; today was an opportunity to do that.”

However, “We look forward to watching this closely and to Hungary acting expeditiously.” The earliest opportunity is February 26, when Parliament returns from recess, but on Monday, the NATO expansion issue hadn’t even been put on the agenda yet.

After Turkey’s ratification last month, Orbán pledged to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Hungary would ratify “at the first possible opportunity,” having earlier said that Hungary wouldn’t be the last holdout.

RUSSIA FRIENDLY

Considered the most Russia-friendly premier in the European Union, Orbán had expressed anger about Sweden’s criticism of Hungary’s perceived backsliding on democratic values.

Several years ago, Sweden’s embassy had angered the government by organizing a “black list lunch” in support of eight journalists, including a Worthy News reporter. They were put on a blacklist after they critically reported about issues ranging from government corruption to nationalism and antisemitism.

Yet Sweden is key for bolstering NATO’s ability to defend its eastern and northern flank against a Russian threat, U.S. officials said.

Hungarian ruling party lawmakers, who are under Orbán’s tight control, threaten to delay ratification until Sweden’s prime minister visits Budapest, where he could “amend” his position.

Premier Ulf Kristersson last week said that he preferred to come to Hungary only after the parliament in Budapest moved on ratification.

While his potential visit is seen in Hungary as a face-saving measure for Orbán, Kristersson has been keen to avoid any optics of negotiating with the Hungarian leader over Sweden’s accession and his nation’s views on democracy.

Amid the standoff, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has urged Hungary to immediately ratify Sweden’s application to join NATO, saying patience is “wearing thin.”

US ANGRY

They noted that Hungary is the only country in the 31-nation military alliance that hasn’t yet backed Sweden’s membership bid.

In a joint statement released, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, urged Orbán to “advance Sweden’s accession protocols to NATO without further delay,” and said continuing to hold up the process would harm Budapest’s relations with its allies.

“Despite its numerous prior public commitments, Hungary is the last remaining NATO member to have not ratified Sweden’s bid, and both time and patience are wearing thin. Hungary’s inaction risks irrevocably damaging its relationship with the United States and with NATO,” the senators said.

Additionally, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested imposing sanctions on Hungary for its conduct and called Orbán “the least reliable member of NATO.”

Cardin stressed that the Biden administration should see whether Hungary should continue participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows passport holders from 41 nations to enter the United States for business or tourism without a visa for up to 90 days.

He also said that “given the level of corruption” in Hungary, the U.S. should examine initiating sanctions against Hungarians under the Global Magnitsky Act, a program that allows Washington to sanction foreign individuals for human rights and corruption violations.

Cardin said he was “grateful” that the European Union on Thursday approved a 50-billion euro ($54 billion) aid package to Ukraine. But Cardin noted that it had only done so by overcoming a veto by Orbán that had threatened to derail the funding.

OPPOSING FINANCING

Orbán had opposed financing the aid through the EU’s common budget.

He ultimately did not veto the measure under pressure from leaders in the 27-nation bloc after they pledged the money would be given gradually and annually reviewed.

Speaking in an interview with state radio on Friday, Orbán, a rightwing politician and supporter of former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, defended his position and cast doubt on Ukraine’s ability to defeat Russia’s invasion.

“Westerners still think that time is on our side, that the longer the war lasts, the more Ukraine’s military situation will improve. I think the opposite is true,” he stressed. “I think that time is on the side of the Russians, and the longer the war lasts, the more people will die, and the balance of power will not change in Ukraine’s favor. Then why do we continue the war?”

He also made clear that Hungary won’t deliver weapons to Ukraine amid concerns about the 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living there, several of whom have died while fighting in the Ukrainian army.

Hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians are believed to have died and injured on both sides since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2021.

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