Ukraine apologists pinning Kiev’s dispute with Hungary on Russia is completely ludicrous

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
Ukraine apologists pinning Kiev’s dispute with Hungary on Russia is completely ludicrous
Ukraine and Hungary are two independent countries with their own bilateral relations. While Russia may benefit from their present squabbles that doesn't automatically mean the Kremlin is responsible for the tensions.

SOCHI - Here we go again. Kiev and Budapest are at each other’s throats. The latest escalation came after Ukraine expelled Hungary's consul in the border town of Berehove, accusing him of illegally offering citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living there.

READ MORE: Ukraine, Hungary expel consuls in escalating double citizenship row

The bitter row between the two neighbors is, of course, Moscow’s fault. Because neither of them have any agency of their own, if you listen to western analysts. Presumably because they are East European and incapable of thinking for themselves. 

What’s more, we have to believe there are no local historical grievances at play and the Ukrainian government is an innocent party in the shambles.

This is what many “experts” have been saying over the past week. Take Anton Shekhovtsov, a former lobbyist at the pro-Brexit “Legatum.” He wrote on Twitter: “Moscow’s two immediate aims with regard to Ukraine: 1. Escalate the Ukraine-Hungary conflict. Tactics: physical attacks on Ukrainian citizens holding Hungarian passports (luckily for Moscow, a Ukrainian government-related website published personal details of those citizens).

READ MORE: 'You lie': Kiev under Hungarian fire after Ukrainian gov denies ties to 'death lists'

And yes, he’s correct about the last part. A Ukraine state-backed far-right portal, Myrotvorets, really has exposed private data of Hungarian officials. A collection described as a “death list” by Hungary. Which is also aggrieved at calls for deportations in the Rada, Kiev’s parliament.

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At the same time, Shekhovstov’s former Legatum colleague Anne Applebaum has gone full tin-foil hat.

She wrote “here's my guess: (Vladimir) Putin has offered (Viktor) Orban the Hungarian- speaking province of Ukraine, part of his long term plan to break up the country,” in response to a Hungarian journalist asking, “what the hell is happening between Hungary and Ukraine, why are diplomatic tensions rising dramatically?

Now, that’s a hell of a conspiracy theory. The Washington Post columnist is suggesting the premier of a NATO and EU member has agreed a secret deal with the alliance’s chief contemporary enemy. Furthermore, she’s made no allowances for Orban’s nationalism, which obviously influences his feelings about ethnic Hungarians abroad. And also plays to his base.

However, what’s worse is Applebaum’s use of disinformation. Because there is no “Hungarian speaking province” in Ukraine. Instead, the place Applebaum presumably refers to is Zakarpattia Oblast, where (in 2001) 81% spoke Ukrainian against only 12% Hungarian. Given salaries are three or four times higher in Hungary itself, the latter figure is probably much lower now. But, alas, Kiev hasn’t conducted a census for 17 years so one can only surmise.

Meanwhile, Budapest’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto has been smeared as a “Russian spy” and the Ukrainians have apparently mounted a troop build-up in the border region. Which, as it happens, is a NATO frontier. Yes, the same alliance that President Petro Poroshenko says his country wishes to join.

Two Faces

While EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker has described Ukraine as “not European in the sense of the European Union,” Hungarians are still bewildered with the present carry on. Because, after all, the economic basket case is dependent on Western aid to keep afloat and Budapest has various vetoes at different fora which it can use to stymie Kiev's ambitions.

And another thing clearly understood in Hungary is that this nonsense is not some sort of Russian plot. Because here are the most prominent reasons Hungarians I canvassed this week gave for the breakdown in relations.

  • Kiev passing an education law that forbids teaching in minority languages. 
  • The Lvov region in Western Ukraine approving a language law that attacks minority 
  • Petro Poroshenko sending a combat battalion to Berehove, a traditionally Hungarian town a few kilometers from the border  
  • Kiev suddenly enforcing, previously ignored, rules on dual citizenship, perceived as being aimed directly at Hungarians in Ukraine
  • Kiev's foreign minister going on national television to cook “Ukrainian” versions of traditional Hungarian meals while saying that “we need to have more Ukraine” in regions with Hungarians.  

Let’s face facts, Hungary and Ukraine are both presently controlled by hyper-nationalist administrations. And they have a historical issue regarding Zakarpattia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. If Russia was somehow blasted into outer space tomorrow morning, these differences would remain.

And if you read Ukrainian media, it accuses a “Hungarian NGO (of) spreading fake(s) about (the) persecution of national minorities in Ukraine.” With no mention of Russia. Because, this dispute needs Moscow’s encouragement like a fish needs a bicycle.

That’s not to pretend the conflict distresses Moscow in any way. Especially given it’s hardly a secret that the Kremlin wants to prevent NATO from expanding into Ukraine, for its own security reasons. Nevertheless, Kiev and Budapest find themselves at loggerheads of their own accord. And to deflect by pretending Russia has created the conditions for the crisis is absurd.

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