Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban appeared to be caught off guard when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday during a trip to Kyiv that "Ukraine's rightful place" is in the 31-nation military alliance.
Orban tweeted "What?!" on Friday while linking to a media report of Stoltenberg's comments during his first visit to Ukraine since Russia's invasion in February 2022.
Hungary, which joined NATO in 1999, has been a thorn in the side of Western nations seeking to expand the alliance. Hungary and Turkey are blocking Sweden's bid to join the alliance, which includes mostly European nations along with the U.S. and Canada. It takes only one NATO member to prevent another nation from joining.
Ukraine is seeking protection under NATO's Article 5, which states that an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on all, meaning if Ukraine were invaded or attacked, all NATO members would be required to come to its aid.
Although Hungary has condemned Russia's invasion, it has not provided military assistance to the country with which it shares an 85-mile-long border. Senior Hungarian officials also regularly have visited Moscow, and the country has maintained close ties with Russia.
In 2008, NATO decided Ukraine would join the alliance, but not immediately. Relations between Budapest and Kyiv have been strained since 2017 over a Ukrainian law that Hungary insists stops members of the Transcarpathian ethnic minority in western Ukraine from studying in Hungarian.
Even though Stoltenberg declared Friday during a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany that "all NATO Allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member," he later appeared to downplay the immediacy of it joining.
"The main focus now is on ensuring that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin does not win the war, that Ukraine prevails, because without a sovereign, independent Ukraine, there is no meaning in discussing membership," Stoltenberg said.
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