KAMIANYTSIA, Ukraine (AP) — A years-long diplomatic conflict between Ukraine and Hungary took a step toward resolution on Monday during a meeting of their foreign ministers, but no breakthrough was reached on Hungary's blocking of a crucial European Union financial aid package for Kyiv.
The meeting, at a resort near the Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod, came as European leaders are scrambling to persuade Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to lift his veto of 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in EU aid to Ukraine which he announced at an EU summit in December.
Orbán, widely perceived as the Kremlin's closest EU ally, has said he will not support financing the aid through the 27-member bloc's budget, frustrating other EU leaders who are struggling to force a change in his position before a summit in Brussels on Thursday when they will try again to approve the funding.
Monday's meeting was Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto's first visit to Ukraine since Russia's invasion in February 2022, and the only official bilateral meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in the last two years.
Szijjarto said that modifications Ukraine made late last year to its education and language laws had “doubtlessly stopped a negative spiral” that had restricted the rights of ethnic Hungarians in the western Ukrainian region of Zakarpattia to study in their native language.
But, he said, those changes were not enough to resolve the dispute over the language rights of the Hungarian minority that has dominated the two countries' poor relations for years.
Hungary, Szijjarto said, has an “expectation that the members of the Hungarian national community will regain their rights that already existed in 2015.”
“We still have a long way to go,” he said, “but we on the Hungarian side are ready to do this work.”
Kuleba said that he considered the question of the Hungarian minority “fundamentally resolved,” but that a joint committee will be established to examine how Kyiv can address Budapest's further demands concerning Ukraine's Hungarian community, and present those findings to the respective governments in 10 days.
Tensions have flared between the neighboring countries as Budapest has obstructed EU efforts to provide financial and military assistance to Kyiv, and has refused to provide weapons to Ukraine or allow their transfer across Hungary’s border.
Hungarian officials have accused Kyiv of mistreating the Hungarian minority in western Ukraine to justify their lukewarm support for the war-ravaged country.
Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office who also attended the talks, said progress had been made on arranging a bilateral meeting between Orbán and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but did not give details on when it might take place.
None of the officials would comment on whether Hungary was likely to lift its veto of the 50-billion euro EU aid package at Thursday's summit.
Ukraine has urgently requested Western funding as it reports shortages of ammunition and military hardware. A planned $60 billion aid package from the United States has stalled in Congress, making it difficult for Kyiv to renew its military capabilities against Russia’s more modern weaponry.
The EU has withheld billions in funding from Budapest over concerns that Orbán’s government has cracked down on judicial independence, media freedom and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Some of Orbán’s critics in the EU believe that he has used his veto power over assistance to Ukraine as leverage to gain access to the frozen funds, while Budapest argues Brussels is seeking to blackmail Hungary to force a change in its policies.