The Hungarian government on Wednesday defended its decision allow the transit of Russian military vehicles through its airspace in spite of EU sanctions, Politico Europe reported.
Russia has delivered 10 armored patrol vehicles to a military base in Serbia, part of a broader military assistance package for the Balkan country, with the plane transporting the cargo passing through Hungarian airspace after Romania blocked the shipment.
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the EU imposed an embargo on arms trade with Russia, as well as an export ban for so-called dual-use goods that can be used for both military and civilian purposes.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás, told reporters Wednesday that the air shipment was allowed to pass through Hungary’s airspace because the cargo was not transported in a military plane but in a civilian plane, which does not require a special permit.
“Of course we get notified about a civilian aircraft entering Hungarian airspace, but that’s a completely protocol-type of notification, which should just be acknowledged,” Gulyás said, adding that for geographic reasons, the Russian cargo would have also had to fly through Poland and Slovakia.
An EU spokesperson said: “We have seen reports. Without commenting on specifics, the implementation of EU restrictive measures is the responsibility of EU member states.”
On Friday, the Romanian foreign ministry said that it had blocked a larger shipment of tanks and armored vehicles from Russia to Serbia via its stretch of the Danube River, citing the EU’s embargo.
The shipment of ten BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles arrived at Serbia’s Niš military base last week, according to local media reports.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said on Monday that the “most important thing for us is that we managed to transport the vehicles to Serbia.” He added: “How and which way they came, that is our business.”
The Hungarian government, which maintains close ties to the Kremlin, takes a strong interest in its Balkan neighbors. Budapest is hoping its candidate to join the next European Commission, László Trócsányi, will receive a portfolio focused on EU enlargement policy.
Yet Hungary’s Balkans policy has come under scrutiny in recent months, with critics raising concerns over a growing volume of investment from pro-government Hungarian businesspeople into the Balkan media market.
The decision by Hungarian authorities last year to facilitate the escape of former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who was due to start a jail sentence in his home country, has also raised concerns across the region and in Western capitals. Gruevski subsequently received asylum in Hungary.