Espreso. Global

Why Ukraine should help Orbán. Vitaly Portnikov's column

3 December, 2023 Sunday

The Ukrainian authorities cited concerns about a planned meeting between member of Ukraine's parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as the reason for revoking Poroshenko's travel permission. They fear that any such meeting, given Orbán’s anti-Ukrainian stance, could be exploited by the Russian special services and propagandists. The concern is that it might be used to advocate for negotiations with Ukraine, creating a narrative suggesting that Ukraine should be more open to these talks

I've never encountered more surprising explanations for the decision to ban the foreign travel of a Ukrainian parliamentarian. Let's begin with the fact that it's unclear if Petro Poroshenko and Viktor Orbán were indeed scheduled to meet. However, what is evident is that canceling a meeting and then publicly announcing the decision not to allow such a meeting can be exploited by any propaganda, be it Hungarian or Russian, to discredit Ukraine.

Secondly, it's entirely unclear to me what negotiations or Ukraine's willingness to negotiate can be referred to in official documents. While Western media may report on it, we know well that Russia is not inclined to negotiate with Ukraine. In the plans of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, there seems to be a long-term strategy of wearing down our state through the ongoing war.

Our goal is to oppose Putin's plans, doing everything possible to strengthen our defense capabilities amid a war with an uncertain end. We recognize that such conflicts might conclude without negotiations, as parties exhaust their resources. The timing of such an end remains unpredictable.

Another crucial aspect is how representatives of power structures choose to engage with Ukrainian politicians. Politicians must foster various contacts, engaging with different individuals for the benefit of their country. In this context, both the government and non-government parties should convey a unified message.

I consistently advocate for establishing a military cabinet, a government of national unity. I believe this approach leads to success. Poroshenko and other leaders of Ukrainian democratic parties should work alongside Volodymyr Zelenskyy in such a power structure, influencing the government not as opposition deputies but as leaders of vital state entities. This alignment mirrors the governance of states at war seeking to maintain a global political presence.

Now, turning to the discussion with Orbán. In official documents, you can accurately depict the Hungarian Prime Minister as someone who expresses anti-Ukrainian views. This is a fact. Yet, the future of our country's European and Euro-Atlantic integration, as well as Ukraine's potential receipt of EU assistance, hinges on Hungary's decisions.

We've seen before how a single country can obstruct EU negotiations, aid provisions, and sanctions against Russia. Viktor Orbán is not the only example. Bulgaria delayed North Macedonia's EU accession talks for several years, and before that, Greece single-handedly stalled North Macedonia's NATO accession talks. This underscores that even a smaller EU or NATO member can impede collectively agreed-upon pathways.

The dynamics of this are currently unfolding in Stockholm. Both Sweden and Finland, upon applying to join NATO, didn't anticipate facing issues. Finland managed to navigate through, while Sweden is still awaiting approval from Turkey and Hungary.

Whether Ukraine will receive aid from the European Union hinges on Viktor Orbán. The absence of tens of billions of dollars crucial for our budget poses a serious problem, especially in light of the lack of aid from the United States.

Representatives of various political factions in the country need to engage with American congressmen, not just the party that secured the majority in the 2019 parliamentary elections. Amidst the current war, the majority holder is irrelevant; what matters is the joint legitimacy of patriotic forces. This is how it appears to those willing to assist Ukraine today.

In conversations with foreign diplomats and journalists, when asked about my stance against holding elections during the war, I explained that such elections could jeopardize the Ukrainian state. Comparing this to their countries, where elections weren't held during wartime, I receive a consistent response: "Yes, but we had a government of national unity, and you don't have it."

Orbán holds the power to obstruct aid and the commencement of Ukraine's talks with the European Union, a process contingent on Hungary's approval. He also wields the authority to veto any decision made at the Washington NATO summit. The crucial question emerges: Is there a slim chance of establishing common ground with the Hungarian Prime Minister to secure around 50 billion in aid or Hungary's consent for EU negotiations? Could this expedite Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration and potentially shorten the duration of the conflict by two or three years? Will it contribute to the safety of our defenders and aid in liberating territories from Russian invaders? These are rhetorical questions.

If we believe that such agreements hinge solely on a particular political leader or faction, asserting that Ukraine's purpose is for one political force to achieve such success, then restricting travel for those not aligned with that force might seem justified. Whether the reported meeting between Poroshenko and Viktor Orbán was genuine or fabricated, the concern extends to any significant diplomatic engagements.

In the second year of Russia's war against Ukraine, as Ukrainians realize the conflict might endure for a decade, with no imminent elections and a critical situation, what actions should we take? If elections are impossible, and the country's future is at stake, where will leaders be chosen – in foreign cities or on the battlegrounds where Ukrainians fall victim to Russian forces?

Ukraine's triumph relies on collective effort. National unity isn't just a whim or a slogan; it's a necessity for the survival of our nation. At this time, it's not about political rivalry; the fate of today's leaders is inconsequential. History shows that leaders during wartime typically step down afterward. This is the historical norm.

Success for the current government would be achieved by watching the Verkhovna Rada sessions on TV as ordinary citizens, witnessing the inauguration of the new country president, and the approval of the new government. This will signify their significant achievement, assuring them that Ukraine endures and continues to exist. For the individuals currently approving crucial decisions about Ukraine’s future, there should be nothing more to wish for. 

Preserving Ukraine is crucial for these aspirations. We need to actively engage in national dialogue, seeking common ground with those hindering our integration into the civilized world. Avoiding providing excuses for politicians like Viktor Orbán, who exploit their EU and NATO membership to obstruct Ukraine and help Russia, is essential. Why aid those willing to oppose us even without our involvement?


About the author. Vitaly Portnikov, journalist, the Shevchenko National Prize laureate 

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the blog authors.

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