KYIV, Aug. 2 – Ukraine has strongly condemned Hungary’s move to appoint a government minister responsible for development of the TransCarpathian region and for spreading pre-school establishments for ethnic Hungarian minority there.
The move is highly controversial as Budapest has been seeking to solidify its influence over Ukraine’s western-most region that is home to 150,000 of ethnic Hungarians.
László Csaba Pap, a top Hungarian diplomat in Kyiv, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on July 31 for a meeting with senior Ukrainian officials.
The Hungarian diplomat was “notified about strong protest against a number of unfriendly steps by the official Budapest toward Ukraine and the need to stop actions that affect the bilateral relations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The development comes amid serious escalation of tensions between the two countries over language legislation that had been enacted in Ukraine and that Budapest insists has been hurting the interests of the ethnic Hungarians.
Hungary, a member of the European Union and NATO, has been using its membership power to block Ukraine’s European integration process and cooperation with NATO in protest against the language legislation.
But the situation worsened after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had recently ruled out the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO and the EU, and suggesting that Ukraine will probably stay in Russia’s sphere of influence.
Orban’s comments triggered a major reaction from Kyiv, which was also in focus of the meeting with the top diplomat as the Ukrainian foreign ministry had demanded an explanation from Budapest.
"Hungary's recent actions demonstrate the country has chosen confrontation instead of cooperation and direct intervention in Ukraine's internal affairs," the ministry said in the statement.
The escalation comes 10 days after Ukraine and Hungary seemed to have made progress in talks over the language issue, leading to Budapest’s move to lift its opposition to President Petro Poroshenko joining other NATO leaders last month. Budapest, however, vowed to continue boycotting Ukraine’s lower-level meetings at NATO.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the United States in February urged Hungary and Ukraine to resolve their differences over Ukraine's new minority language law to unblock relations between Ukraine and NATO. (om/ez)