Ukraine won’t join NATO until it achieves ‘democratic standards’ & respects rights of minorities, says Hungarian foreign minister

24 Sep, 2021 13:06

By Jonny Tickle

Ukraine does not yet meet the standards that would allow it to be accepted into the US-led NATO military bloc, the Hungarian foreign minister has claimed, specifically pointing to issues regarding minority rights in the country.

Speaking to Russian news agency TASS, Péter Szijjártó accused Kiev of violating the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. This topic has long been a talking point for Budapest regarding its eastern neighbor. Relations between the two nations deteriorated in 2017, when a law in Ukraine banned all foreign tongues from being used as the language of instruction in the country’s educational institutions. At the time, Szijjártó promised that Hungary would “block all steps within the European Union that would represent a step forward in Ukraine’s European integration process,” warning that it would be “painful.”

“In order to have a conversation on the issue [of joining NATO], any country has to achieve democratic standards, and Ukraine has not yet done so,” he said. “We will never accept the violation of minority rights.” Until this issue was solved, it will be “very difficult” to discuss Ukraine’s accession to NATO, Szijjártó said.

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According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, 12.7% of those living in the country’s Transcarpathian region consider Hungarian their native language. Ukraine’s Hungarian Party holds eight seats in the region’s local council, comprising 12.5% of all MPs.

Disputes with Budapest are not the only reason that Ukraine may struggle to join NATO. Joining the bloc was one of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s stated goals when he was elected leader in 2019, and he has repeatedly requested that his nation be allowed into the alliance. However, the idea has been less popular with some NATO members, and there appears to be no sign of Kiev being admitted any time soon.

Earlier this year, French Ambassador to Ukraine Etienne de Poncins noted that the country must follow the roadmap provided for it by NATO if it wishes to officially be put on the Membership Action Plan (MAP) that leads to admittance.

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“At the moment, there is no consensus among the members to grant MAP to Ukraine,” he explained. “It’s not a question of France or other countries. It’s just a matter of consensus … Let’s do our homework and not open up a perspective that is not yet realistic.”

Ukraine also wishes to join the European Union – another of Zelensky’s goals. In 2016, the then-president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said it would take 20 or 25 years before Ukraine was ready to join the EU and NATO.

That opinion is shared by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, who noted that “joining the EU has a lot of conditions,” and that Ukraine, like Georgia and Moldova, does not yet “meet the criteria for membership.”

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