Hungary’s Orbán Takes Step Toward Breaking Deadlock over Sweden’s NATO Membership

by Braxton Taylor

BUDAPEST, Hungary— Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sent a letter to his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, inviting him to Budapest to discuss Sweden’s accession into the NATO military alliance, Orbán wrote Tuesday in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The invitation comes as Hungary and Turkey remain the only NATO members not to have ratified Sweden’s bid to join the alliance. Admission into NATO requires unanimity among all member countries, but more than a year of delays in Budapest and Ankara have frustrated other allies who want to expand the alliance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Orbán, a right-wing populist who has been lukewarm in his support for neighboring Ukraine and maintained a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has long promised that Hungary would not be the last NATO member to ratify Sweden’s bid.

Last month, the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee approved Sweden’s accession protocol, moving the Nordic country one step closer to joining the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted his opposition to Sweden’s membership last year in response to efforts by Stockholm to tackle supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups in Sweden that Ankara views as security threats.

Erdogan has also openly linked Sweden’s NATO membership to Ankara’s efforts to purchase U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, and has called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

While Orbán says his government supports Sweden’s admission into the alliance, he claims that lawmakers from his governing Fidesz party remain unconvinced because of what he called “blatant lies” by Swedish politicians about the condition of Hungary’s democracy.

Neither Orbán nor his senior officials have indicated what kind of redress they require from Stockholm to allay their reservations over Sweden joining the military alliance.

In his letter to Kristersson, Orbán wrote that “a more intensive political dialogue” could contribute to “reinforcing the mutual trust” between Sweden and Hungary, and invited his counterpart in Stockholm to exchange views on ”future cooperation in the field of security and defence as allies and partners.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström declined to say Tuesday whether Kristersson would accept Orbán’s invitation.

“We must first think through what the letter signals,” Billström said. “What we hope is, of course, that Hungary will ratify the membership as soon as possible.”

Sweden and Finland abandoned their decades-long neutrality and sought membership in NATO amid heightened security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland became NATO’s 31st member last year after Hungary and Turkey were the last two countries to ratify its bid.

Unless an emergency session of Hungary’s parliament is called to debate the matter, its next scheduled assembly is expected on Feb. 26.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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