Ambassador David Pressman’s Introductory Remarks at the Hungary-Ukraine Relations Panel Discussion 

Ambassador David Pressman’s Introductory Remarks at the Hungary-Ukraine Relations Panel Discussion

April 26, 2023

 – as delivered –


Ambassador Kalmar, former Foreign Minister Jeszenszky, fellow members of the diplomatic corps, colleagues from the academic and expert community, members of the press, and esteemed guests.  Good morning.  Thank you all for coming today.  It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the U.S. Embassy for an important discussion about Ukraine.   


Initially, I would like to note something that should probably be obvious, but I believe it bears continued reminding because it can be easy to lose sight of.  As we gather this morning in beautiful springtime Budapest, next door in Ukraine, Ukrainians are defending themselves and their country against a senseless war of aggression.  Innocent men, women, and children are dying as a result of Russia’s brutal attacks, and the people of Ukraine are living this reality every day.   


The United States wants this war to end.  The United States wants peace.  Each of our nations can advance the cause of peace by standing united against the party of war and insisting that Vladimir Putin stop attacking civilians and that he withdraw his troops from his democratic neighbor.   


We should all be concerned by cynical political efforts to weaponize the term “peace” by suggesting that those who are standing with victims being attacked, standing alongside those whose homes are being invaded, standing with kids being forcibly relocated, standing with civilians being bombed are somehow standing in the way of peace.   


When we hear politicians advocate for appeasement masquerading as peace, let’s be very clear:  one man can make peace today.  If Putin stops fighting, the war ends.  If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.   


It is cynical to call for a ceasefire when it is not your country that is almost 20 percent occupied by a foreign invading army.  And it is not credible to suggest that if only there was a ceasefire, Vladmir Putin would come to the negotiating table in good faith and agree to withdraw his troops rather than to simply rearm and renew his assault.  The United States wants peace, one that is just and lasting.  And that is precisely why we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the victims, with Ukraine.  


Standing with Ukraine – and encouraging other countries to do the same – is not, as some suggest, an effort to “drag Hungary into war.”  It is an effort to show unity of purpose against those who would unilaterally redraw the borders of Europe by force.  


Too often, discussions about Ukraine instantly become charged, reductive, politicized, and, frankly, patronizing.  It is unfortunate that, in the midst of this churn, many fail to understand the human impact of the war, what the Ukrainians themselves are fighting for, and what’s at stake for European and global security in the 21st century.  This calls for less political posturing and more fact-based discussion, less rhetoric and more first-hand accounts about what is really going on there and what it means for all of us.   


Today’s event is an effort to broaden the discussion about the situation in Ukraine, to juxtapose the incomplete or inaccurate picture of the country we may see in the Hungarian media with accounts of individuals on the ground.  There is so much disinformation out there about Ukraine – lots of which comes straight from the Kremlin – portraying it as nothing more than a basket case, as irretrievably corrupt, or as filled with far-right extremists.  The reality is that, like many democracies, Ukraine struggles with many issues.  But Ukraine is also a vibrant society where a generation of inspiring activists are working to address those challenges, to continue making progress on the path toward Europe.  I hope we can learn more about such efforts today, because so often this story goes unreported here.  


As the United States Ambassador, I have heard, repeatedly, from senior Hungarian officials concerns about the treatment of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine.  We take – I take – those concerns very seriously.  And, more importantly, I know Hungarians, across this country, take those concerns very seriously.  This is an issue that merits our attention.  And it has it.  In any society, laws affecting language and education have a profound impact on affected communities – and on their dignity.  We recognize this, and that’s why, in virtually all of my meetings with Hungarian officials whose work touches on this issue, I tell them the United States is your friend.  We are prepared to work with you to address this.  Tell us how we can help resolve this issue of contention between our ally Hungary and our close partner Ukraine.   If this is a serious issue, we should address it seriously and make an effort to solve it.  If there is genuine political will to solve it, make no mistake, it can be solved.  We remain ready to work with our Hungarian allies and Ukrainian partners to engage if it would be helpful in finding a resolution.   


At the same time, we are troubled by Hungarian officials’ instrumentalization of the NATO Alliance to address these bilateral concerns.  Amidst a land war in Europe, consultations with our partner Ukraine are vitally important to our shared security as Allies, and Hungary’s policy of standing alone in an effort to block high-level meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission is untenable, and as was seen just last month, will no longer be accepted.   


Let’s focus on addressing the serious concerns raised by Hungarians, and standing resolutely with the Ukrainians as they fend off an invasion by the Russians.  And let’s focus on the facts on the ground.   


To that end, we are so pleased to assemble a diverse group of activists, experts, journalists who have reported from the front lines, and individuals with long experience working to improve Hungary-Ukraine relations.  I am confident this will be a stimulating discussion about what is happening in Ukraine during this difficult period.   


I want to specifically note the presence here today of our colleagues from the Ukrainian Embassy.  We value our close relationship with your team and look forward to continued cooperation.  Ukraine faces unprecedented challenges, to its security, its prosperity, its democracy – indeed, its fundamental right to exist.  Yet brave Ukrainian soldiers are defending their homeland in pursuit of a just and lasting peace, and inspirational activists carry on their work to ensure Ukraine continues making progress on the democratic, European path its people chose in 1991. 


The United States and its Allies and partners will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to ensure that its people are able to realize their aspirations for a brighter future.  For the rest of the afternoon, I’m going to leave you in the hands of my trusted and talented deputy, David Holmes, to moderate these discussions.  I am sure you’ll have a productive event.   


Thank you for your attention.