NATO Chief Agrees to Hungary’s Opt-Out From Ukraine Support

(Bloomberg) -- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg agreed to Hungary having an opt-out from deepening support for Ukraine, in exchange for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s pledge to not block any related decisions within the military alliance.

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Orban said the agreement was an acknowledgment that most members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization don’t share his views on how to end Russia’s war against Ukraine, namely by halting military aid for Kyiv.

“I’m glad that today the prime minister and I have agreed on modalities for Hungary’s non-participation in NATO support to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said at a joint briefing with the Hungarian leader in Budapest on Wednesday. “At the same time the prime minister has assured me that Hungary will not oppose these efforts, allowing other allies to move forward.”

Orban’s call for an opt-out of future military aid for Ukraine has raised concern among NATO allies about the precedent it could set, both for Hungary’s future steps within the alliance, but also for other members potentially paring back support for Kyiv.

More broadly, his repeated calls for the West to stop aiding Ukraine altogether — and efforts to torpedo support packages in the European Union — have raised questions about his standing within the alliance, particularly in light of Budapest’s deepening economic links with Russia.

Orban said on Wednesday that his country remained a “loyal” NATO member that meets defense spending targets and takes part in other missions, such as helping in joint air patrols over the Baltics.

Further NATO support for Ukraine is high on Stoltenberg’s agenda. After allies questioned the viability of his proposal for a $100 billion, five-year fund for Ukraine, his latest proposal is for spending a total of at least €40 billion ($43 billion) per year on lethal and non-lethal aid for Kyiv, with spending goals determined by each nation’s gross domestic product.

The funding commitment proposed by Stoltenberg, which could receive broad backing by NATO defense ministers when they meet in Brussels this week, is part of a larger package of support for Ukraine due to be approved by leaders when they gather in Washington in July. In addition, NATO is proposing it take on a more active role with coordinating training and weapons deliveries to Ukraine.

In a Bloomberg interview on Tuesday in Riga, Stoltenberg said the current proposal on the table was “significantly more” than his original one, on an annual basis.

“We have to communicate very clearly to Ukrainians that we will stand by them for as long as it takes,” Stoltenberg said in the Latvian capital.

He also said there that Hungary’s opt-out request wasn’t setting a precedent, since other alliance members have decided to stay away from past missions, including in Libya and Afghanistan. That’s a point he returned to in Budapest.

“It’s not a NATO obligation to participate in all NATO missions and operations or activities as long as all NATO allies adhere to the core obligations in the Washington treaty, our collective security and defense guarantee,” Stoltenberg said.

--With assistance from Natalia Drozdiak, Megan Howard and Thomas Hall.

(Recasts with NATO chief, Hungarian premier comments.)

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