Stoltenberg: NATO aid plan for Ukraine without Hungary in sight

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expects an agreement on greater European responsibility for future aid to Ukraine at the alliance’s defense ministers’ meeting on Thursday. Hungary will not block the decision to coordinate military and financial aid through NATO, Stoltenberg said. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had previously negotiated with Stoltenberg in a meeting described as “difficult” that his country would not have to provide military aid to Ukraine.

So far, the USA has been organizing the allies’ military aid for Ukraine in the so-called Ramstein Group. With a view to a possible election victory by former President Donald Trump in November, Stoltenberg had proposed transferring responsibility to NATO and in particular to the European partners. This is intended to make the aid to Ukraine “Trump-proof,” as diplomats said.

However, Orban had threatened to veto the decision, which requires unanimity among NATO countries. This threat also referred to the planned decision for long-term financial aid from NATO countries to Ukraine.

Stoltenberg reiterated that member states have spent a total of 40 billion euros annually on Ukraine since the start of Russia’s war of aggression in February 2022. “We must maintain this level of support as a minimum for as long as it is necessary,” he reiterated in Brussels.

Orban considered the meeting with Stoltenberg in Budapest a success. His country had received guarantees that Hungary would not have to participate in military operations outside its own territory in connection with the war in Ukraine. “Hungary will neither contribute money to this war nor send people to this war, nor will Hungarian territory be used to participate in this war,” said the national conservative head of government.

Orban is considered Russia’s closest ally in the EU and NATO and has not distanced himself from Moscow despite Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Before Stoltenberg’s trip to Budapest, representatives of several NATO states had expressed skepticism about an exception for Hungary, as they see this as a possible precedent for other states. The Slovakian government is also considered to be close to Russia.

Frustration is growing within the alliance over Hungary, which has been a member of NATO for 25 years. Most recently, Orban’s government delayed Sweden’s accession to the alliance.

Hungary, together with Romania and Slovakia, has so far prevented an agreement on the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as Stoltenberg’s successor. The reason is said to be Rutte’s critical comments on the lack of rule of law in Hungary. It is unclear whether the blockade can be overcome by the NATO summit in Washington in just under four weeks.

Recent statements by Orban during the European election campaign that the Allies’ actions in the Ukraine war were similar to those of Adolf Hitler in World War II have also met with sharp criticism within NATO. Stoltenberg did not want to comment explicitly on this when asked by a journalist.

The NATO defense ministers’ meeting will initially focus on further air defense for Ukraine. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) is likely to call on the partners to do more for Kyiv. Stoltenberg expects further commitments.

Ukraine is demanding at least seven Patriot systems. Germany has promised one, and the USA will provide another, according to a media report. Italy could deliver a SAMP/T system. According to Stoltenberg, Sweden, Spain and Belgium have also promised billions for the possible purchase of another system.