Prior to her appointment in May 2016 Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Hungary Lyubov Nepop served as the Deputy Representative of Ukraine to the EU. Extensive experience in promoting the European integration of Ukraine by the career diplomat is currently applied to the development of Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. The task is not aneasy one. After all, Hungary, Ukraine’s friendly neighbor, is trying to balance its interests before Kyiv and obligations in the European Union with aspirations to resume economic cooperation with aggressive Russia.
- Mrs. Ambassador, prior to your appointment Kyiv did not have an ambassador in Budapest for two years. Experts today still associate this fact with insufficient Ukrainian-Hungarian bilateral relations. What is the current trend in this area, which issues does your diplomatic work focus on to promote friendly and mutually-beneficial relations of partnership between Ukraine and Hungary?
- Priorities in relations between Ukraine and Hungary, as a member country of the EU and NATO, is cooperation in restoring the territorial integrity of our country and countering Russian aggression, the support of Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic integration, the development of trade and economic cooperation. In addition, of course, in the context of Ukrainian-Hungarian dialogue we cannot forget about cross-border cooperation, and the issue of national minorities plays an important role in our relations as neighboring countries.
ISSUE OF PASSPORTS IN TRANSCARPATHIA: OUR HUNGARIAN WERE INVITED TO TALKS
- Among problem issues in cooperation between Ukraine and Hungary we can note the "expansionary" policy of Budapest as to Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia. This is mass issuance of passports to Ukrainian Hungarians neighboring country, seen as a threat to the national interests of Ukraine. How can Ukrainian diplomacy in Budapest prevent the factor Hungarian separatism in Ukraine?
- I believe it is very important to separate the issue of assisting this minority and the issue of separatism. We cannot put an equal sign between these things.
Hungary has traditionally been and still remains a country which attaches particular importance to supporting Hungarians living abroad, and this policy applies not only to relations with Ukraine. For Budapest it is crucial that foreign ties between Hungary and Hungarians continue.We also are interested in these ties between Ukraine and Ukrainians living in Hungary continue to exist. However, in my opinion, we must work to ensure that such interaction helps to strengthen the role of the two national minorities in the rapprochement between our countries and the development of bilateral relations.
As for dual citizenship. You know, Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship. We asked our Hungarian colleagues for consultations on the matter.
BUDAPEST AS AN ACTIVE LOBBYIST FOR UKRAINE’S VISA-FREE REGIME
- What future plans are there for Ukraine to cooperate with partners of the Visegrad Group? What role will Budapest play for Kyiv in this format of cooperation?
- We give great importance to the development of interaction in the V-4 + Ukraine format, and we hope that it will continue to be actively used. Within the framework of interaction between the Visegrad Four and Ukraine Budapest handles the question of promoting the development of small and medium-size businesses. I think this is one area that is important in terms of economic growth in Ukraine. In the second half of 2017-first half of 2018 Hungary will head the V-4. This will provide additional opportunities for our cooperation on Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. Opportunities for cooperation with V-4 were discussed recently at a meeting of heads of Government during the Economic Forum in Krynica-Zdrój.
АТО TROOPS TO BE REHABILITATED AT BATTALION
- Tell us about help from the Hungarian side on the issue of rehabilitating troops wounded as a result of Russian aggression against Ukrainian servicemen?
- Hungary gives quite substantial practical aid to Ukraine in overcoming the consequences of Russian aggression. Last year Hungary took in 21 wounded Ukrainians for rehabilitation, and this year Hungary is ready to take in 20 of our servicemen. Four have undergone rehabilitation and the next group is getting ready to come. Treatment is provided at the Medical Centre of the Armed Forces of Hungary in Budapest, and rehabilitation at the sanitorium in the resort town of Balaton. Depending on the injuries, each soldier spends 3-4 and 2-3 weeks there, respectively. Soldiers spend an average of one and half to two months undergoing treatment. The nature of the medical aidprovided by the Hungarians, namely treating injured limbs with the ability to provide prosthetics. Hévíz thermal water helps to return joints to working order. Furthermore, Hungary has for the second year now organized a vacation for Ukrainian children from families of ATO participants. A total of 700 children had a holiday this year and the figure last year was 650.
SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA: UKRAINE IS COUNTING ON THE SUPPORT OF BUDAPEST
- Since the beginning of autumn the question of continuing economic sanctions imposed against Russia has become a very topical one in the EU. Hungary is one of the few EU member states (at least this is the position of Prime Minister Viktor Orban) who have questioned the need to continue these restrictive measures. What is the mood currently in Hungarian government circles on this very important issue for Ukraine?
- The statements of Prime Minister Orban talk about the need for debate about sanctions. In Hungary thesis as to their inefficiency in the context of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements can be heard and the negative impact on the Hungarian economy of counter-sanctions from Russia. At the same time, they also stress in Budapest that Hungary complies with the common EU policy in this regard. As you know, Budapest supported the extension of sectoral sanctions against Russia in June this year. We, for our part, at all levels bring to Hungarian partners the signal that further support on the issue of sanctions is key for our country, and we especially look forward to help from our neighbors.
ІNFRASTRUCTURE POTENTIAL: HUNGARY CAN SUPPLY MORE
- Кyiv and Budapest have huge mutually beneficial interests in working in the energy sector. Are infrastructure and technical opportunities for increasing the volumes of gas supplies from Hungary to Ukraine being considered?
- Existing technical possibilities of cross-border gas pipelines are not being used at full capacity at present, and we have the potential to increase cooperation with existing opportunities.
Hungary has provided assistance to Ukraine in the organization of reverse gas supplies from Europe, and today operates a Hungarian route without problems.
Hungary became the first EU country with which Ukraine signed an agreement on cross-border gas transmission systems association (so-called Interconnection Agreement) last May. These agreements offer huge scope for deepening our cooperation.
«VIRTUAL BUSINESS MISSIONS» AND UKRAINIAN OPPORTUNITIES FOR HUNGARY
What other infrastructure and trade and economic projects can be topical and are being considered for implementation nowand in future?
- We are interested in stepping up economic cooperation in all areas and levels. As practice shows, the best effect can be achieved by focusing primarily on sectoral cooperation. We are looking into the possibility of organizing this year's business forum in the Hungarian city of Debrecen. We are carrying out preliminary plans to focus on areas such as agriculture, food processing, engineering and tourism. One of the priorities is the development of existing and construction of new checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border. At present, unfortunately, the financial resources of the Ukrainian side are limited, and we are working with the Hungarian side to look for ways to raise additional funds for the development of the cross-border infrastructure.
Аndriy Lavrenyuk, Brussels – Budapest