Hungary Wants to ‘Redefine’ Its NATO Membership, Orban Says

(Bloomberg) -- Hungary is working to “redefine” the country’s NATO membership status to allow it to potentially opt-out from the military alliance’s deepening support for Ukraine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

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Hungarian military officials and lawyers are already working on trying to come up with a new concept that would differentiate the country from other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Orban said in a state radio interview on Friday.

“Our lawyers and officers are hard at work to see how Hungary can maintain its NATO membership in a way that it wouldn’t have to take part in NATO actions outside of NATO territory,” Orban said.

The government in Budapest is already an important contributor in the alliance’s two missions outside of its territory — in Iraq and in Kosovo. NATO members also have the option to opt out of any military missions, even though the broadest possible participation is always encouraged.

Orban’s remarks come as the alliance is drawing up a package of support for Ukraine to present at its leaders’ summit in Washington in July. The measures are expected to include a greater role for NATO at the operational level in coordinating weapons deliveries and training for Kyiv’s forces.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has also proposed allies pool together a $100 billion fund for Ukraine for the coming five years, but many allies have pushed back on the plans since they were initially proposed.

Hungary has sought to repeatedly torpedo Western efforts to aid Ukraine, including financing and weapons deliveries to help Kyiv fight back Russia’s full-scale invasion, currently into its third year.

Orban also sought to stall on NATO’s expansion to include Finland and Sweden and struck energy deals with Russia, prompting criticism from Western capitals.

In the interview, Orban said Hungary was committed to NATO’s mission to defend members should one come under attack. But he said Hungary was concerned that financing and weapons supplies for Ukraine, a non-NATO country bordering Hungary, would eventually give way to greater military involvement, potentially even sending troops.

He said Hungary fundamentally disagreed with some NATO members’ assessment that Russia would invade NATO’s eastern flank after Ukraine, as the current war, he said, should be considered as one between “two Slavic countries.”

That view isn’t shared within NATO, which has set up working groups to explore the military alliance’s potentially expanded role in the war, Orban said. The support for Kyiv’s forces under the new NATO mission would take place outside of Ukraine.

Hungary, as a NATO member, takes part in these discussions but effectively as a “non-participating member” that opposes sending money and weapons to Ukraine, he said. Giving Hungary a formal opt-out would amount to a new concept of NATO membership, he said.

“It’s a situation where we’re sort of there and not there” now, Orban said. “I don’t know how long this can be maintained.”

--With assistance from Marton Kasnyik and Natalia Drozdiak.

(Updates with background, Orban comments from fourth paragraph.)

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