Hungary and Austria announced on Monday that the two nations will not be supplying Kyiv with weapons, shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Western leaders to speed up the delivery of promised military supplies.
Hungarian Defense Minister Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky made the announcement at a joint news conference in Budapest with his Austrian counterpart Klaudia Tanner, saying that their countries do not want to escalate the war in Ukraine.
The position of Hungary and Austria, which are both members of the European Union, is “clear” and the decision against providing Ukraine with military assistance is “to prevent a further escalation,” Szalay-Bobrovniczky was cited by news outlet Euractiv as saying.
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Szalay-Bobrovniczky emphasized that the countries want to remain on the side of peace, and that they are both providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians fleeing the war, which began after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
“We live in a time of danger,” he said.
Tanner, meanwhile, said she feared the war could eventually spread to western Europe, and noted the impact this could have on migration.
“The effects are not only enormously felt in Austria, but also in Hungary. Eventually, the routes run through our neighboring country to us,” Tanner said.
Both Hungary and Austria are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas and Austria has pledged to retain the neutral status it had during the Cold War.
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has for many years built strong economic and political ties with Russia and has often spoken of his close relationship with Putin. Hungary condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has gone along with a number of EU sanctions packages, while securing an exemption last May from an EU embargo on Russian crude oil imports.
Hungary’s relations with Ukraine, meanwhile, are fraught. Ukraine protested to Hungary’s ambassador on Tuesday after Kyiv alleged that Orban had told reporters that Ukraine was a no man’s land and compared it to Afghanistan.
Ukraine is set to receive dozens of advanced tanks over the coming months to help counter Russian aggression. Multiple countries have promised in recent weeks to provide Ukraine with tanks, after much deliberation and debate.
The U.S. announced on January 25 that it would send Ukraine up to 31 M1 Abrams tanks. Germany has said it would provide the war-torn country with 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks, and allow partner countries to re-export other combat tanks to assist Kyiv.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on January 26 that the promised Leopard 2 tanks will arrive in Ukraine at the end of March or the start of April. The British Challenger 2 deliveries could also reach the country by the end of March, while the Biden administration’s promised Abrams could take months to arrive, according to reports.
Western countries have so far ruled out sending Kyiv modern Western fighter aircraft. The issue is expected to be on the agenda at a summit in February at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, said in August 2022 that the topic of supplying Kyiv with weapons is no longer a “taboo” topic for any EU members “with the exception of Hungary and Austria.”
“All European countries, except Austria and Hungary, are sending military aid to Ukraine to a greater or lesser extent,” he was quoted as saying at the time.
Orban has divulged why he is holding back against supplying the war-torn country with weapons. On January 27, he suggested that Western nations providing weapons and money to assist Ukraine in the ongoing conflict have already “drifted” into becoming active participants in the war.
Western countries should instead pursue “a ceasefire and peace talks,” Orban said on Hungarian state radio.
“It started with the Germans saying they were willing to send helmets, because they wouldn’t send lethal tools into the war since that would mean participation in it. This is where we started,” Orban said. “Now, we’re at battle tanks, and they’re already talking about planes.”
He said he believes EU countries that have promised or or have provided Ukraine with weapons are “not only in danger, they have already been swept away.”
“If you send weapons, if you finance the entire annual budget of one of the belligerents, if you promise more and more weapons, more and more modern weapons, then you can say whatever you want. No matter what you say, you are in the war,” Orban said.
Newsweek has contacted Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry for comment.