Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 71

Relations between Russia and Hungary took a hit over the weekend following a decision by Hungarian authorities to block a Russian aid convoy en route to Yugoslavia. Although the two sides reached an agreement yesterday which allowed the convoy to pass, Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s foreign policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, suggested that tensions over the incident will linger.” Prikhodko was quoted as saying that Moscow would “draw very serious conclusions from Budapest’s actions.” He also warned that the Russian government intends to “thoroughly and seriously analyze the impact of these events on Russian-Hungarian relations” (Itar-Tass, April 12).

Prikhodko’s comments on the incident, however, were relatively muted in comparison to those offered by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Russia’s chief diplomat called the halting of the convoy an “unfriendly” action by Hungarian authorities and a “violation of all international principles and norms.” As negotiations over the convoy dragged on without result yesterday, Ivanov warned that the incident would have “extremely grave consequences for Russian-Hungarian relations” (UPI, Russian agencies, April 12).

The diplomatic incident began late on April 10 when a convoy of seventy-three trucks–carrying what Moscow said was humanitarian aid from Russia and Belarus–was stopped on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. The Hungarian authorities apparently acted because the convoy included some eight fuel tankers and another five armor-plated military vehicles. Belgrade said that those vehicles constituted a violation of the UN arms embargo on Belgrade insofar as the fuel could be used by Yugoslavia, while the other vehicles might be converted to military use. The Hungarian authorities were reportedly in frequent contact with NATO officials throughout the two-day standoff.

Moscow, which had reportedly hoped that the convoy could reach Yugoslavia by April 11–the Orthodox Christian Easter–was outraged by the Hungarian decision. Russian officials said, among other things, that they had received full clearance for the convoy some three weeks earlier and that all the vehicles in the convoy conformed to international norms. Moscow then promptly dispatched Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to Budapest for talks with Hungarian officials (Russian and international agencies, April 11-12; New York Times, April 12).

The two sides ultimately reached a compromise which allowed the convoy to pass–minus the five armor-plated vehicles and with Hungarian observers present. Throughout the course of the incident various Russian officials had accused Hungary–which only just won membership in the Western Alliance–of acting under pressure from NATO authorities (UPI, Russian agencies, April 12). Although the incident was resolved, it provided yet another source of tension between Moscow and the West related to the conflict in Kosovo.