Hungary, Ukraine eye improved ties despite minority rights dispute

by Reuters
Wednesday, 27 January 2021 12:07 GMT

(Recasts with news conference after meeting)

By Pavel Polityuk and Marton Dunai

KYIV, Jan 27 (Reuters) - The foreign ministers of Hungary and Ukraine called on Wednesday for an improvement in relations badly strained by a dispute over the linguistic rights of some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia.

Hungary's Peter Szijjarto, in Kyiv for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, also dismissed as "nonsensical" accusations by Ukrainian nationalists that his country wanted to annex Transcarpathia, which borders Hungary.

Kyiv infuriated Budapest in 2017 with a law restricting the use of minority languages including Hungarian in schools.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's nationalist government responded by blocking Ukraine's efforts to build closer ties with NATO and the European Union, of which Hungary is a member.

"We are committed to return to the basis of mutual respect in bilateral relations because it is much better to be in a good relationship than a bad one," Szijjarto told a joint news conference with Kuleba after their talks.

Kuleba, who had earlier warned Hungary against trying to "dictate any conditions" to Ukraine, said "emotions and suspicions" were the main obstacle to better relations.

"(Our) relations should be approached with a warm heart and a cold head," he said.

THREATS

Szijjarto rejected Ukrainian nationalist claims that Hungary has designs on Transcarpathia, which also borders Romania, Slovakia and Poland.

"We have always supported your territorial integrity, which clearly makes any separatism charge nonsensical," he said. "Transcarpathia must become a shared success story."

"If Hungarians are seen as a source of conflict, then we won't be able to improve bilateral ties. I am happy that the minister... sees the Transcarpathia Hungarians as a resource."

Before arriving in Kyiv, Szijjarto complained of threats of "bloodletting" violence he said Hungarian diplomatic missions in Ukraine had received overnight from people calling themselves Ukrainian patriots.

Kuleba said Ukrainian police were investigating the threats, which he said appeared to originate from outside Ukraine.

The enmity between Kyiv and Budapest has wider dimensions.

Orban has forged good ties with President Vladimir Putin's Russia and has called for the lifting of EU sanctions imposed on Moscow over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists battling Kyiv's forces in eastern Ukraine. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv and Marton Dunai in Budapest Editing by Gareth Jones)

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