9th Dec 2023

EU scolds Hungary over POW transfer from Russia

  • EU spokesman urged Hungary to come clean on what happened with prisoners (Photo: European Commission)
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Budapest needs to explain its role in the transfer of Ukrainian prisoners of war from Russia, said the European Commission.

"We've heard that this situation was not coordinated with Ukraine. This should not have happened," Peter Stano, spokesperson for the EU's foreign policy branch, told reporters on Wednesday (21 June).

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Eleven prisoners of war, reportedly from Ukraine's westernmost Zakarpattia Oblast, were sent from Russia to Hungary on 9 June.

"It's up to the Hungarian authorities to explain the details of this case, the role it's played in the liberation of these Ukrainian citizens from Russia," he said.

The operation is said to have been carried out in secret amid a widening diplomatic rift between Kyiv and Budapest.

Earlier this week, authorities in Kyiv said the POWs were being kept in isolation and accused Hungary of ignoring its requests to establish contact.

"The consul and ambassador are not allowed to visit them despite persistent requests from us," Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs, told the press.

He also described the prisoner transfer as a political stunt designed to bolster the standing of Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán.

"There was one simple goal: Viktor Orbán had to show the Hungarians both in Hungary and outside of Hungary that he was their only defender," Kuleba said.

On Tuesday, Hungary's chief spokesperson Zoltán Kovács, accused Kuleba of making false statements.

In a Tweet, citing Hungary's foreign minister Péter Szijjártó, Kovács said the Hungarian government had not been involved.

Kovács also said the transfer had been coordinated between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta.

But this appears to contradict his own earlier statement.

On 9 June, Kovács said that the transfer had in fact been coordinated by Hungary's deputy prime minister Zsolt Semjén.

"The operation, which Mr Semjén called a human and patriotic duty, was carried out at the request of Hungary," Kovács had said.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Semjén had failed to inform high-ranking Hungarian government officials.

The media outlet said the POWs were part of a PR stunt by the Kremlin-backed Russian Orthodox Church, which backfired.

Three of the 11 POWs have since been released and returned to Ukraine.

The Zakarpattia Oblast, where the POWs are from, is home to some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians.

Orbán has in the past vetoed EU sanctions on Russian church leaders and Russia's nuclear, gas, and oil industries, while making fawning overtures to Moscow.

He is also holding up Sweden's entry into Nato, further alienating Hungary's Western allies.


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