US envoy warns over Hungary's 'close and expanding' links with Russia

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - NATO allies are warning Hungary of the dangers of its "close and expanding" relationship with Russia and if this is Budapest's policy choice "we will have to decide how best to protect our security interests", the U.S. envoy to Hungary said on Thursday.

Relations between Budapest and Washington have soured because of Hungary's foot-dragging over the ratification of Sweden's NATO accession - finally passed by Budapest last month - and also over nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's warm ties with Moscow despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"These legitimate security concerns – shared by Hungary’s 31 allies – cannot be ignored," U.S. Ambassador David Pressman said in a speech marking the 25th anniversary of Hungary’s membership in the NATO military alliance.

Pressman said Hungary was an ally "that behaves unlike any other."

"It (this speech) is about a government that labels and treats the United States an “adversary” while making policy choices that increasingly isolate it from friends and allies.

This speech is about a long-time friend and ally saying and doing things that undermine trust and friendship," he said.

Tensions between Orban's government and President Joe Biden's administration have worsened in the past weeks as Orban openly endorsed Republican Donald Trump's bid for the U.S. presidency after meeting Trump in Florida. Orban praised Trump as the only U.S. presidential candidate who could end the war in Ukraine - by cutting off military aid to Kyiv.

Budapest opposes Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but Orban has refused to send weapons to Kyiv and repeatedly criticised EU sanctions against Russia. His government has kept up close relations with Moscow - partly due to Hungary's continued energy dependence on Russia.

Pressman said Hungary was openly calling for the U.S. and other allies to cut off Ukraine from military support in order to force an immediate ceasefire and peace negotiations.

"The United States also wants peace. We want this war to end. But the Hungarian proposal does not stand up to reality," he said.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams and Alistair Bell)