Years of tensions between Hungary and Ukraine burst into public view Thursday evening, when President Volodymyr Zelensky chewed out Hungarian leader Viktor Orban via video link as he spoke to a meeting of EU leaders.
The exchange follows discord between the neighbors over language laws, Hungary’s long block on ministerial discussions between NATO and Ukraine, and Mr. Orban’s warm ties with the Kremlin.
In recent weeks, Hungary has refused to allow weapons to be sent into Ukraine via its territory and is one of a number of EU countries opposing a ban on energy imports from Russia. Hungary, however, has supported hefty EU sanctions packages and NATO’s response to the Russian invasion.
Mr. Zelensky has frequently used his addresses to parliaments to criticize governments for failing to do enough to support Kiev–at times incurring the wrath of some in his audience. But his remarks Thursday, posted online later by the president’s office, were unusually personal.
Referring to trips he’d made with his family to the Hungarian capital, Mr. Zelensky said he had stood by the Holocaust memorial, Shoes on the Danube Bank, which marks the murder by Hungarian fascists during World War II of Jews, who were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot at the edge of the river.
“I visited your waterfront. I saw this memorial,” he said in remarks carried on Ukrainian television. “Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol? Please if you can go to your waterfront, and you will see how mass killings can happen again in today’s world. And that’s what Russia is doing today.”
“And you hesitate whether to impose sanctions or not? And you hesitate whether to trade with Russia or not? There is no time to hesitate. It’s time to decide already,” Mr. Zelensky said.
Mr. Orban, whom officials described as sitting in the meeting listening to the remarks expressionless, didn’t respond to Mr. Zelensky immediately.
After the meeting however, the Hungarian prime minister posted a video and referenced Mr. Zelensky’s remarks.
“Some countries again raised the issue of extending sanctions to energy, coal, gas and oil. In fact, the Ukrainian president himself…asked us to do the same,” he said.
“We considered this and then refused, given that 85% of gas in Hungary comes from Russia and more than 60% of our oil. A sanction would mean that the Hungarian economy would slow down and then stop in a matter of seconds.”
The Hungarian leader, who has been in office for the past 12 years, faces elections next month. As part of his campaign pitch, he has argued his government will ensure Hungary isn’t dragged into the war by allowing weapons to cross into Ukraine.
Most western weapons to Ukraine are crossing in from Poland.