Conflicts & War

Europe wants peace, Orban tells Putin as tensions simmer

Moscow, Feb 1 (EFE).- Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said during a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday that “no European leader wants war”.

“We are in favor of peaceful agreements,” Orban said.

The nationalist leader, who was urged by the Hungarian opposition to cancel his visit to Moscow, had said that he would consult with his allies in the European Union and Nato before traveling to Russia.

Unlike other countries in the region such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, Hungary has not clearly expressed support for Ukraine in its border conflict with Moscow in recent weeks.

According to the press, Orban is looking to strengthen his country’s economic cooperation with Russia ahead of crucial April elections, in which the opposition has a chance of ousting him from power.

His visit comes a day after growing tensions over Ukraine, with the United States and its European allies accusing Russia of preparing an invasion, spilled over to the United Nations Security Council in the first meeting convened to discuss the crisis.

China’s ambassador, Zhang Jun, criticized the meeting, insisting that it was “the time for discreet diplomacy, not microphones”.

What ensued was a dialogue of the deaf in which the Russian ambassador, Vasili Nebenzia, denied that his country plans to invade Ukraine or that it has deployed 100,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border: “Where did that figure come from?” said the diplomat, who also criticized Western countries for fomenting what he called “Russophobia” in Ukraine.

US representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield was skeptical of her Russian colleague, saying “actions speak for themselves: threatening to act if their requests are not met is not responsible” on Russia’s part, she said.

The Ukrainian ambassador put the number of Russian soldiers at 112,000 including those on the Crimean peninsula – de facto separated from Ukraine – and recalled that “the ongoing militarization of Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov is a real threat to his country.”

The Western countries that took the floor in addition to the US – the UK, France, Norway, Ireland and Albania – repeated one after the other that Russia was threatening Ukraine’s and the whole of Europe’s security by thinking in terms of outdated spheres of influence and blocs “more typical of the Cold War”, as the Albanian representative said.

In this context, they defended Ukraine’s right to establish the security alliances that it deems appropriate, alluding to its close ties with Nato, which is central to Russia’s grievances.

The Russian ambassador said that Western countries were fomenting a kind of “collective hysteria” because while his country – he insisted – is in favor of détente.

“We see a rhetoric in which it seems that they are asking for it (war), they are waiting for it to happen,” he said.

He also defended his country’s right to deploy troops “in our territory”, criticizing what he called the “hypocrisy” of the United States, a country that has 700 military bases and 165,000 military personnel deployed around the world, 60,000 of them on European soil.

He advocated solving the conflict within the Minsk Protocol, which in 2014 put an end to the war in Donbas (eastern Ukraine).

He convened a meeting on February 17 in the Security Council, while European countries preferred to stress that the framework for resolution should be the Normandy format, made up of Russia and Ukraine with Germany and France as mediators.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart Anthony Blinken were due to speak on the telephone on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky told the country’s parliament that he was adding 100,000 personnel in Ukraine’s armed forces, bringing the total to 350,000.

“This decree is not because a war is coming. This decree is for peace to continue,” he said.

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