US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman held a press conference on Wednesday, 12 April. Liberal, critical-of-the-government news website 444.hu had been tipped off ahead of the other media, reporting on Tuesday that the press conference was coming and, citing ‘multiple’ unnamed diplomatic sources even suggesting that ‘sanctions’ would be announced.
The presser was held at the US Embassy, which meant that the journalists had to go through rigorous entry procedures before being allowed. After a protracted security check and a delayed start, the press conference itself only lasted about ten minutes.
IIB and Hungarian Executive Among Those Sanctioned
The ambassador announced that the United States is proclaiming sanctions as of 12 April against 50 institutions and individuals. The sanctions are related to Russia, and Hungary is involved because among the Budapest-based International Investment Bank (IIB) and its leaders are among those sanctioned.
‘We are concerned that Hungary’s leaders are striving to establish ever closer relations with Russia, despite its brutal aggression. A close economic cooperation with the Russians is feeding the Russian war machine, and endangers the security of the trans-Atlantic alliance,’ the ambassador said.
He noted that the purpose of the sanctions is to make it difficult for the Russians to access the goods necessary for continuing the war.
He announced that three senior officials of IIB, including a Hungarian citizen, Imre Laszlóczki, former Hungarian ambassador to Azerbaijan, and two Russian nationals, Nikolai Kosov and Georgi Potapov have been placed on the list of sanctioned individuals. IIB is a platform for Russia to extend its influence in the region, and is therefore a potential threat for both the European Union and its Western allies, Pressman underscored.
He reminded that his country expressed concerns to Budapest as soon as the bank moved its headquarters here from Moscow, but Hungary would not acknowledge those concerns.
At the end of his statement, Ambassador Pressman stressed that the United States considers Hungary an important ally and intends to maintain a constructive relationship with Budapest, and the sanctions announced in fact were necessary for that very reason.
Evasive Answers During Short Q&A
He responded cautiously to questions, emphasising the need of openness in the relationship between the United States and Hungary. He reminded that his predecessor had also expressed concerns about Russia. ‘Hungary is treating the international investment bank as guests, and the staff have diplomatic passports; these questions need to be addressed.’
Answering a Magyar Nemzet question about why he chose to invite a known anti-Semite, Jobbik MEP Márton Gyöngyösi to the Passover dinner he hosted, Pressman said ‘We consider it important to have a dialogue with Hungarians of different attitudes, even with those we do not agree with.’ He suggested that Gyöngyösi has since repented, and sat down at the same table, ‘wearing a kippah, with representatives of the lesbian, homosexual and Jewish communities.’
When asked whether more sanctions would come should the Hungarian government not react as expected, the ambassador said cooperation with Hungary is in the interest of the United States, as the two countries ‘are in the same boat’ as allies.
Unprecedented Embassy-sponsored Campaign
In a rather unprecedented move, a nationwide billboard campaign has been launched this week with support from the US Embassy, with the message ‘Russkis Go Home,’ drawing a parallel between the Russian aggression against Ukraine and 1956. Chief of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás reacted on Wednesday stating that the American Embassy ‘has launched a pro-war campaign.’
The Hungarian government has not yet commented on Pressman‘s statements.