Americans who may be weary of footing the bill for Ukraine in its defense against Russia are finding no friend in Hungary.
In November the EU proposed to give impoverished Ukraine — with over 80% of its nation without electricity, among other necessities — $18.6 billion in critical humanitarian aid, including support for energy and healthcare facilities.
But Hungary has vetoed the transfer of the critical aid package.
Budapest has stood out as the only member of the 27 country organization to block the EU package, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban having effective veto power because EU budget rules require the unanimous approval of all 27 member countries.
American and European officials have been noting Orban’s “persistent pattern” of obstructionism in aid to Ukraine, with some saying the East European state is even at risk of losing its NATO membership.
Last Friday, Orban appeared on Hungarian state radio and said his government would continue its veto, as the deadline loomed for the transfer on Tuesday with the bloc’s finance ministers scheduled to convene in Brussels.
“We will not accept the other plan, we will not consent to it, without us it will not come into being,” he said.
Orban has argued that the EU’s joint borrowing program is at issue, and he wants each of the 27 EU member states to do its own separate aid packages with Kyiv.
Critics say the counter-proposal is nothing more than a clever ruse to block or delay urgently needed funding for Ukraine.
“Hungary has consistently proved an obstacle to improving Ukrainian relations with Europe, with the EU, and NATO,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, who currently serves as senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
“This has been a persistent pattern for years.”
Herbst said that Orban’s defiance in supporting U.S. and EU intiatiave is “certainly a problem for us,” and some believe that U.S. policy makers will have to soon re-assess Hungary’s standing in the Western alliance.
Already the U.S. is carrying the bulk of Western support for Ukrainian, with a bill that could top $100 billion if the latest $38 billion aid package is approved by Congress as part of a year-end government funding bill.
“The U.S., NATO, and EU should be looking at ways to persuade Hungary to do the right thing,” Herbst said.
“Getting assistance to Ukraine is critical, especially since the EU hasn’t been doing its fair share. We have provided a majority of the assistance to Ukraine both militarily and economically.”
Pointing out that defeating Putin is a “critical interest of the U.S. and West,” Herbst said Americans should be “annoyed with Hungary” for getting in the way of the EU “pulling its weight” regarding economic aid.
“For people who put America first, this should be an important issue,” he said.
Because this is far from the first time that Orban has made Ukraine a pawn to extract concessions for Hungary, Mark Galeotti, author of “Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine” and an honorary professor at the University College London School of Slavonic & East European Studies, called Orban “more of an inconvenience than a worry.”
“He’s interested in nothing but Viktor Orban,” he said.
Galeotti said Orban’s decision to “hold the Ukrainian aid deal to ransom” is his response to EU recovery funds that are being blocked from going to Budapest over his “democratic backsliding.”
Budapest and Kyiv have regularly clashed over Orban’s relationship with Moscow.
Budapest has cozy ties to Russian gas and Orban has called President Putin a friend while vocally opposing EU sanctions against Moscow.
He has also made claims about the unfair treatment of ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine ever since Kyiv passed a law in 2017 restricting the use of minority languages in the classroom.
Brad Woodworth, an associate professor of history at the University of New Haven, chalked Orban’s behavior up to Hungary “looking out for itself” as he sets out to separate European norms from the military sphere on his quest to rule an “illiberal state” in Budapest.
Because the EU relies on unanimity of consensus, Galeotti said it provides a platform for Orban to “cause a problem and wait to be bought off.”
“The EU hates any kind of confrontation and relies on unanimity,” he said. “It doesn’t have ways of dealing with someone, who is willing to buck the consensus, or doesn’t care about being treated as an outsider or the awkward guy.”
While Hungary has previously created obstacles for the EU only for a deal eventually to be made, Herbst said it is critical that whatever deal must be reached to get the aid package through needs to “happen soon.”