Hungary – European foreign ministers met in Brussels on May 22 to discuss an eleventh package of sanctions against Russia, as well as further military aid to Ukraine. Once again, the tense relations between Kyiv and Budapest impacted the discussion among EU leaders.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó reiterated his country’s well-known position: Budapest will block a new pledge of 500 million euros to Kyiv for as long as the Ukrainian authorities keep the Hungarian bank OTP (National Savings Bank) on their list of “ international sponsors of the war”.
Indeed, the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAZK) added OTP to its list this month for not shutting down its Russian subsidiary. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock sided with the Ukrainian government on this issue, alleging at the Brussels meeting on Monday that OTP
“recognises Russian sovereignty in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and grants loans to Russian soldiers”.
The Hungarian government, however, firmly rejects these accusations. In a statement quoted on May 23 by the Hungarian news site Mandiner, the board of directors of OTP’s Ukrainian branch explained that
“OTP Bank complies with Ukrainian and international legal standards in all cases.
(…) the OTP Group significantly reduced its presence in the Russian market during 2022: its share fell to 0.17%, while its corporate loan portfolio decreased by 75% and lending to legal entities was discontinued.
The report about its recognition of the occupied territories and preferential loans to the Russian army is not true!
(…) the OTP group publicly supports Ukraine, strongly condemns the war, and provides financial support to Ukrainian defenders, hospitals, and orphanages. (…)
We, OTP Bank Ukraine, will continue to do everything possible for the victory of Ukraine!”
According to Szijjártó, “The accusations against OTP are false, they are not based on any facts, and
we ask the Ukrainians to remove OTP from the list of international sponsors of the war.”
The Ukrainian list of “war sponsors” includes – in addition to OTP – Procter & Gamble, Leroy Merlin, Mondi Group, Bonduelle, Auchan, as well as the Austrian Raiffeisen banking group.
This latest blockade by Hungary comes after a veto swept aside by NATO for a NATO-Ukraine summit in early April, and continues a long series that began in 2017.
At that time, Viktor Orbán’s government decided to use all the legal means at its disposal to put pressure on Ukraine, which had just introduced a law reducing the right of its national minorities to receive education in their minority language. While Russian speakers were of course the main target, this had consequences for other national minorities, including the Hungarians of Subcarpathia (Zakarpattya oblast). The Hungarian minority is also regularly threatened and provoked, without sufficient reaction in Budapest’s eyes from the authorities in Kiev.