Hungary vetoes NATO statement on Ukraine over minority rights: minister

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto attends a news conference at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary has vetoed a joint NATO declaration on Ukraine as it did not contain a reference to its neighbor’s obligation to fully respect the rights of ethnic Hungarians living there, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Wednesday.

Szijjarto was speaking at a conference on the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Hungary, an important ally for Moscow within the European Union which has sanctioned Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine.

“Hungary will not sacrifice the ethnic Hungarian community ... for geopolitics,” Szijjarto said in a statement released after the conference.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is currently in Kiev to demonstrate the military alliance’s support for Ukraine, which has been fighting pro-Russian separatists for five years.

Hungary has clashed repeatedly with Ukraine over what it says are curbs on the rights of roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians to use their native tongue, especially in education.

Budapest has threatened to retaliate by blocking Kiev’s attempts to move closer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as well as the European Union, both of which Hungary belongs to.

Szijjarto said Hungary had no choice but to veto the NATO statement as it did not include Hungary’s proposals demanding Ukraine backtrack on a minority rights issue.

During their most recent feud, Hungary said Ukraine had scrapped the teaching of subjects in the languages of its ethnic minorities, including Hungarian, from its secondary school curriculum.

Ukraine passed a law in 2017 obliging teachers to use only Ukrainian in secondary schools, saying it wanted to integrate minorities better and help them obtain public sector jobs.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by David Clarke