During a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday, Germany and Hungary engaged in a heated dispute concerning the involvement of a controversial Hungarian bank in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to four anonymous diplomats familiar with the exchange.
The bank in question, OTP, has emerged as a central issue in recent days, as Hungary refuses to endorse further EU military assistance to Ukraine until Kyiv removes the company from its list of “war sponsors.” This disagreement is also causing delays in implementing new sanctions against Russia, as stated by diplomats.
During the closed-door meeting, when Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó restated Budapest’s position, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock swiftly responded, as described by the anonymous diplomats.
They reported that Baerbock referenced undisclosed sources indicating that OTP acknowledges the Russian-occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, which goes against international law and has provided credit lines to Russian soldiers.
Hungary swiftly rejected the accusations, echoing the stance of the bank itself, which issued a statement declaring the reports as “not correct” and emphasizing the bank’s public support for Ukraine.
However, the exchange between Germany and Hungary, characterized by one diplomat as “civilized and within a normal framework of discussion,” occurred following pressure from other countries such as Sweden and Estonia during the meeting. These countries argued that the EU should not delay implementing further sanctions aimed at countering circumvention, as well as providing increased military aid to Ukraine.
The dispute highlights the growing frustration among other EU member states towards Hungary, which has repeatedly obstructed efforts to impose measures against Russia and strengthen support for Ukraine. While Budapest has typically yielded to concessions in the past, the persistent delays have left many exasperated.
On Monday, several diplomats and ministers expressed their opinions openly, urging Hungary to separate its disagreement with Kyiv over the “war sponsors” list from the EU’s efforts to approve additional military aid and sanctions.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis emphasized the need to proceed with the sanctions without delay, stating, “There are certain countries that are linking unrelated issues, such as the naming and shaming campaign, to the sanctions package.”
One diplomat expressed bewilderment as to why Hungary is fixating on the Ukrainian list, considering its lack of legal significance.
Following the meeting, Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, pledged to address the divergences. EU officials have indicated that Borrell is expected to engage with Kyiv to discuss the matter as well.
“We must do everything possible to obtain approval for the next package of military support to Ukraine,” he informed reporters. “If one member state encounters difficulties, let’s engage in a discussion about it; that’s what we will do.”
EU defense ministers are scheduled to discuss the bloc’s military support for Ukraine in a meeting on Tuesday.