On Nov. 29-30, a meeting of NATO foreign ministers took place in Bucharest. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba arrived in the Romania capital with his colleagues from the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, who had previously been on a visit to Kyiv.

The first day of the summit was devoted to issues connected to aid for Ukraine. This topic, along with how best to respond to Russian threats, has been at the top of NATO’s agenda ever since February.

The need for a new package of aid to Ukraine has become even more pressing since Russia’s massive missile attacks on Ukraine’s power grid and its attempts to effectively weaponize winter, fueling a further humanitarian crisis.

Following discussions at the summit on the latest challenges associated with Russia’s war against Ukraine, a NATO statement emphasized all member countries’ readiness to provide Ukraine with the assistance needed to restore the power grid damaged by Russian missiles.

At the same time, the Alliance promised to help modernize Ukraine’s defense sector after the end of the war and “to strengthen long-term interoperability and deter future aggression.”

It is rather symbolic that, on the very day of the NATO summit, some of its member states, namely the U.S., France, and others, announced special comprehensive packages of operational energy and military aid to Ukraine. However, it should be noted that this material assistance is being provided not by NATO itself, but by its individual member states. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reconfirmed that the countries of the Alliance will continue to provide assistance to Ukraine for as long as it takes.

The question of Ukraine’s NATO ambition

The NATO summit in Bucharest was also important for Ukraine on another level. At the end of September, President Volodymyr Zelensky and the government of Ukraine submitted an official application for Ukraine to join the Alliance. And, naturally, Kyiv is waiting for a response.

Initial reactions from NATO officials back in October were predictably restrained. Decisions like an accession of a country to NATO are not taken by the NATO Secretary General or individual politicians, but by the entire Alliance. And even then, it is a purely an informative reaction.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO allies had discussed Ukraine’s application and support the country’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations: “Foreign ministers confirmed NATO’s support for Ukraine’s right to choose its path. We recognize and respect Ukraine’s aspirations for membership. However, we are [currently] focused on immediate support as Ukraine is defending itself against Russian aggression.”

This reaction was largely as expected and is quite acceptable for Ukraine at the present time. The possibility of Ukraine joining NATO will be fully considered following the conclusion of the war, depending on how it ends. And that is why NATO should prioritize providing Ukraine with the support needed to ensure its victory against Russian aggression. This, in turn, would open a window of opportunity for Ukraine to rapidly join the Alliance.

Fly in the ointment

Amidst positive messages from Bucharest, we cannot help but mention the “fly in the ointment” in the form of Hungary.

Once again, Hungary has blocked Ukraine’s full participation in NATO activities. Given Russia’s war against Ukraine and since it was namely “the Ukrainian question” being discussed at the summit, it seems less a harmless inappropriate action by Hungary, but more a cynical and selfish stance that indirectly benefits the aggressor.

It is obvious that, by adopting this position, Budapest is blackmailing Kyiv, trying to force Ukraine to make significant concessions regarding the “special status” of the Hungarian minority in our country.

But this kind of blackmail in general – and especially under current conditions – Is unacceptable for us. And it raises a key question about the acceptability of such actions for NATO in the context of an escalating confrontation with Russia and the need to provide active assistance to Ukraine.

Furthermore, it speaks volumes that Hungary has not blocked NATO aid for our country – politicians in Budapest seem to understand it would be one step too far under the current circumstances.

However, Hungary’s special treatment of Ukraine is a major red flag in light of Ukraine’s future European Union (EU) and NATO integration. It is evident that Hungary is going to throw sand in the wheels of Ukraine’s ambitions, hindering both processes.

How serious can it be? There will surely be challenges, but they are not insurmountable.

After all, resistance to NATO membership has not been purely limited to Ukraine. Turkey voiced its complaints to Finland and Sweden regarding their wish to gain swift entry into the alliance earlier this year, risking the process for both countries being blocked.

Necessary compromises were made and Finland and Sweden’s accession path to NATO is now almost complete, with Turkey and (unsurprisingly) Hungary the final countries to promise to give their official consent.

With that in mind, Budapest’s special treatment of Ukraine should not become a critical obstacle on our country’s path to join the EU and NATO. But this potential problem must be taken into account and, together with our friends in the EU and NATO, we must develop special tactics to counter cynical blackmail attempts by Hungary and to minimize the risks as Ukraine seeks its path to a brighter future through European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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