Nato chief open to Hungary’s Kyiv aid opt-out; Scholz slams far-right for boycotting Zelensky speech

Nato chief open to Hungary’s Kyiv aid opt-out; Scholz slams far-right for boycotting Zelensky speech
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attends a press conference during the Eastern Flank Summit in Riga, Latvia, 11 June 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / TOMS KALNINS)

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg left open the possibility for Hungary to opt out of an aid package for Ukraine after Budapest signalled it would abstain from deepening support for Kyiv.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pilloried legislators from the far-right Alternative for Germany and the far-left BSW parties for boycotting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the nation’s Parliament. 

German economy minister Robert Habeck said Europe was engaged in “intense” work to keep gas flowing through a key Russia-Ukraine pipeline as it seeks a solution that doesn’t fill the Kremlin’s coffers. 

Nato chief signals openness to Hungary’s opt-out of Ukraine aid

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg left open the possibility for Hungary to opt out of an aid package for Ukraine after Budapest signalled it would abstain from deepening support for Kyiv. 

Stoltenberg will hold talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during a visit to Budapest on Wednesday. In an interview in Latvia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization chief said he would seek a compromise, pointing to alliance members opting out of past missions, including in Libya and Afghanistan.   

“I’m aware that Hungary has some reservations,” Stoltenberg said in Riga after meeting regional leaders on Tuesday. “We’ll look for a solution and I will discuss that with Orbán.” 

Further Nato support for Ukraine is high on Stoltenberg’s agenda. After allies questioned the viability of his proposal for a $100-billion, five-year fund for Ukraine, his latest proposal is for spending a total of at least €40-billion per year on lethal and non-lethal aid for Kyiv, with spending goals determined by each nation’s gross domestic product.

Orbán’s call for an opt-out of future military aid for Ukraine has raised concern among Nato allies about the precedent it could set, both for Hungary’s future steps within the alliance, but also for other members potentially paring back support for Kyiv. 

Read more: Why Orbán is stonewalling allies over aid for Ukraine: QuickTake

More broadly, the Hungarian leader’s repeated calls for the West to stop aiding Ukraine altogether — and efforts to torpedo support packages in the European Union — have raised questions about the Hungarian leader’s standing within the alliance, particularly in light of Budapest’s deepening economic links with Russia. 

The funding commitment proposed by Stoltenberg, which could receive broad backing by Nato defence ministers when they meet in Brussels this week, is part of a larger package of support for Ukraine due to be approved by leaders when they gather in Washington in July.

Stoltenberg said the current proposal was actually “significantly more” than his original one, on an annual basis.

“We have to communicate very clearly to Ukrainians that we will stand by them for as long as it takes,” Stoltenberg said. 

Scholz condemns far-right legislators for Zelensky speech boycott

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pilloried legislators from the far-right Alternative for Germany and the far-left BSW parties for boycotting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the nation’s Parliament. 

“The chancellor is very disturbed, but not surprised by such disrespectful behaviour,” said Scholz’s chief spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit.

AfD and BSW legislators skipped out on Zelensky’s speech to the lower house, or Bundestag, on Tuesday in protest over the ruling coalition’s support for the government in Kyiv against Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla, the co-leaders of the AfD caucus, published a statement in which they derided the Ukrainian leader — who earlier attended a reconstruction conference — as a “war and begging president” and questioned his legitimacy as the country’s head of state. Although a handful of the AfD’s 77 members were present in the Bundestag to hear Zelensky speak, most stayed away, along with the BSW’s 10 deputies. 

“The government should not give him a stage for reconstruction begging,” Weidel and Chrupalla wrote. “Ukraine does not need a war president now, it needs a peace president who is willing to negotiate so that the dying stops and the country has a future.”

Sahra Wagenknecht, who co-founded the BSW in January after splitting from the Left party, accused Zelensky of “contributing to a highly dangerous spiral of escalation”. A separate statement from the party said he was “accepting the risk of a nuclear conflict with devastating consequences for the whole of Europe.” 

In his speech he thanked the German people for their “unwavering support” and the help that “ordinary people, different German cities, states, and communities” were providing. 

“The German government should use its influence on Zelensky to get him to agree to peace talks,” according to the BSW statement. “You don’t end wars with weapons, you end wars through peace negotiations.”

The two parties’ talking points echo some of the narratives promoted by the Kremlin, and both have been accused by critics of being too soft on Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

German authorities said last month they were investigating an AfD lawmaker, Petr Bystron, for alleged corruption and money laundering linked to Russia. Bystron, who was second on the party’s list for the European Parliament elections, has denied allegations that he took cash from a Czech-based, pro-Moscow media outlet. 

Germany says Ukraine gas transit deal won’t aid Putin’s war chest

German economy minister Robert Habeck said Europe was engaged in “intense” work to keep gas flowing through a key Russia-Ukraine pipeline as it sought a solution that doesn’t fill the Kremlin’s coffers.

The discussions aimed “not to fill Putin’s war chest even more, and still to ensure a reliable energy supply for southeast Europe”, he said on the sidelines of a conference in Berlin on Tuesday. 

Europe has tried to wean itself off Russian gas but several eastern states continue to receive it through a pipeline that crosses Ukraine. The agreement that covers this transit arrangement expires at the end of 2024, with officials discussing options to keep gas flowing, Bloomberg News reported.

“The Ukrainians don’t need these gas supplies,” Habeck said, “but not all European states have managed to become as independent from Russian gas as we are.”

Germany has fast-tracked several liquefied natural gas terminals to replace shipments from Russia’s Gazprom. However, the company still ships around 15 billion cubic metres of fuel to Europe a year via Ukraine, mainly to Slovakia and Austria. 

Read more:

Habeck pointed out that there were “intense talks between the EU Commission and those countries”, adding that he personally was “very engaged in this.” Ukraine’s largest energy company — state-run Naftogaz — has ruled out any plan that involves working with Gazprom.

Bloomberg News reported earlier that one option being discussed involves European companies buying and injecting gas from Azerbaijan into Russian pipelines heading to Europe. Such an arrangement would allow the continent to avoid propping up Moscow’s revenues. 

Germany to deliver Patriot missiles, strike drones to Ukraine

Germany will deliver several thousand strike drones and 100 additional Patriot guided-missiles to Ukraine as part of the latest military aid package for the war-battered country.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius unveiled the support during a joint visit with Zelensky at a military site in Sanitz, northern Germany, where Ukrainian soldiers are being trained to operate the Patriot air defence system.

Earlier on Tuesday, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin that the government in Rome was also readying another military package for Kyiv that will include a SAMP-T air defence system. 

The German package includes manual weapons such as sniper rifles, anti-tank weapons and components of artillery ammunition requested by Kyiv.

The government in Berlin is also considering sending a fourth Patriot air defence missile battery to Ukraine, Bloomberg reported last week. Western allies have struggled to deliver the equipment that Zelensky has urgently requested to fend off Russia’s fresh assault. 

Ukraine says Russia may try to disrupt talks to curb dirty money

Ukraine has warned Singapore and other nations that Russia could try to disrupt an upcoming meeting of the global watchdog that combats money laundering and terrorist financing, despite being suspended from the body.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is due to meet in Singapore from 23-28 June and Kyiv this month wrote to the hosts and other members to warn them that the Kremlin could send officials to the talks in an attempt to contact, influence and pressure delegates on the margins of the proceedings, according to people familiar with the matter. One FATF delegate confirmed their country had received a letter.

The Paris-based FATF sets the international standards for rules and procedures to counter money laundering and terrorist financing, as well as facilitating cross-border cooperation to combat suspect transactions. 

Countries that fall short of FATF standards are given a chance to clean up their act but can eventually see a hit to investment because banks are wary of doing business with questionable counterparties. Russia was suspended from the FATF after its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 but has so far avoided being put on the body’s “blacklist” alongside Iran, Myanmar and North Korea. 

A spokesperson for Russia’s financial intelligence unit, Rosfinmonitoring, said in an email that a Russian representative would attend the FATF meeting in Singapore in person as part of the team assessing India’s implementation of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing standards under the “mutual evaluation” process.

The spokesperson said that Moscow’s representative would also be attending some sessions relating to Russia and other agenda items remotely under the flag of the body’s Eurasian Group (EAG). They said that the rights of the Russian Federation as an EAG member were being infringed by barring them from being physically present for discussions, the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for the FATF confirmed that because Russia was suspended its delegation would not be permitted to attend the meeting in person.  

Zelensky appeals for urgent help to restore energy network

Zelensky highlighted the urgent need to rebuild Ukraine’s battered energy infrastructure at a conference in Berlin convened to mobilise international support for reconstruction. 

The gathering, co-hosted on Tuesday by Zelenskiy and Scholz, brought together government officials, international organizations and company executives and follows similar meetings held in 2022 in Lugano and London last year. 

Russia resumed extensive attacks on Ukraine’s power network last month, targeting energy facilities across the country. A major missile and drone assault on 1 June prompted authorities to impose more rationing of electricity supplies.

Zelensky accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using energy as a weapon and said about 80% of thermal power generation and a third of hydro generation had been destroyed since the full-scale invasion began in February 2022.

He appealed for investment that would help restore as much as one gigawatt of capacity during the next three to four months out of the nine gigawatts he said Russian attacks had knocked out.

“We are asking for equipment from non-operating stations and direct financial support,” Zelenskiy said. “We have already lost many times more generation than the consumption of large cities.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Just Me says:

    You would think the so-called left would want more peace and the right more war, but not it this crazy world.

    The left has lost its moral compass.

    More peace is better than more war. That means containing Nato and the USs military industrial establishment.

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