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Hungary’s Orban Strikes Softer Tone on Sanctions, Ukraine

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Hungary won’t keep standing in the way of European Union sanctions except on vital matters of energy policy, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, offering a softer tone on Ukraine without making concrete concessions.

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(Bloomberg) — Hungary won’t keep standing in the way of European Union sanctions except on vital matters of energy policy, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, offering a softer tone on Ukraine without making concrete concessions.

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Budapest will still oppose any sanctions on natural gas imports, Orban told public radio in his weekly interview on Friday. However, it can’t constantly “go against the flow of traffic” in the bloc on non-energy issues, as that would be inappropriate in a union built on “cooperation, loyalty and mutual trust,” he said.

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Orban-led Hungary is Russia’s closest ally in the EU and Orban has had personal disputes with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The Hungarian premier has also managed to get EU sanctions packages watered down. At the same time, the EU has retained clout by threatening to withhold billions of euros in aid from Hungary over Orban’s backsliding on the rule of law.

In his remarks, Orban struck a softer tone on Ukraine, saying that Hungary and its allies were backing the government in Kyiv because Russia had been unjustified in attacking.

“Everyone is on the side of the Ukrainians as one should be on the side of the defender,” he said. Russia had “no reason to attack another country and start an open war, even if the Russians don’t call it a war.”

Hungary must boost its defense capabilities as the war is gradually moving within Ukraine to territories that are closer to Hungary’s own borders, Orban said.

(Updates with comments on defense buildup in sixth paragraph)

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