Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent comments while pushing for more international support have drawn criticism from a neighbouring nation, with barbs thrown today over NATO membership and Ukrainian refugees.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó responded to comments made by the Ukrainian President on April 30, where Zelensky suggested that Budapest should not be considered for NATO membership.
Szijjártó criticized Zelensky for his comments, stating that he had no right to judge Hungary‘s actions as a NATO member, and that the Hungarian people had already paid a high price for their involvement in the war in Ukraine.
Szijjártó also highlighted the fact that many Hungarians had already died in the conflict, as members of the Hungarian community in Zakarpattya Oblast in western Ukraine.
“Fortunately, he is not the one to decide this,” the foreign minister said in a social media post. “The Hungarian people have already paid an extremely high price for this war.”
Szijjártó clarified that Hungary would continue to support Ukraine in providing aid and in accepting refugees, as long as Ukraine showed respect towards Hungary. However, Szijjártó also defended Hungary’s position on not supporting Ukraine’s accession to NATO, and criticized Zelensky’s suggestion that Hungary was politically confused.
“If this statement (by Zelensky) means: ‘I respectfully thank the Hungarians for letting in and taking care of more than a million refugees from Ukraine, and I respectfully thank you for continuously sending aid,’ then they are welcome, and can count on us in the future as well.”
Zelenskyy had previously criticised Hungary for its political alliances, stating that it was irrational for a NATO country to consider Russia a friend.
He also suggested that Hungary was only an ally of NATO on paper, and accused the country of continuing to buy gas from Russia and refusing to allow deliveries of weapons to Ukraine to transit its territory.
While other NATO allies have maintained a policy of diplomatically isolating Russian President Vladimir Putin, Szijjártó has visited Moscow several times for talks since the start of Russia‘s full-scale war on Ukraine.
It comes as Hungary’s recently re-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban criticised Zelensky, calling him one of many of the nation’s “opponents”.
Zelensky has previously criticised Orban’s ban on the transfer of arms to Ukraine despite sharing a border.
Orban has however condemned the Russian invasion and allowed the passage of countless Ukrainian refugees fleeing the invasion.
“We never had so many opponents,” he said last month.
“Brussels bureaucrats… the international mainstream media, and the Ukrainian president.”
Adding fuel to Zelensky’s accusation, Russian President Vladimir Putin had also sent Orban a congratulatory message on the Telegram messaging app.
“Despite the difficult international situation, the further development of bilateral ties of partnership fully accords with the interests of the peoples of Russia and Hungary,” Putin wrote.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis called on Hungarians to “open doors” to migrants, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the central European country led by a prime minister who is staunchly anti-immigration.
Throughout his visit to Budapest — dominated by the war in neighbouring Ukraine — Francis has emphasised a welcoming stance towards those fleeing conflict or poverty.
His comments have stood in stark contrast to the stance of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who while welcoming Ukrainian refugees has otherwise espoused anti-migration rhetoric to defend a “Christian Europe” since coming to power in 2010.
Some 50,000 people, including Orban, listened to the pope lead an open-air mass at a central Budapest square under tight security, during which the Argentine pontiff urged all, including “those with political and social responsibilities”, to be more open.
“Please, let us open those doors!” said the 86-year-old pontiff, adding it was “sad and painful… to see closed doors.
“The closed doors of our selfishness with regard to others… the doors we close towards those who are foreign or unlike us, towards migrants or the poor,” said Francis.
At the end of the mass the pope prayed for the “beleaguered Ukrainian people and the Russian people” and for “a future of hope, not war, a future full of cradles not tombs, a world of brothers and sisters, not walls and barricades”.