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Neither Hungary’s Laszlo Toroczkai nor Romania’s Claudiu Tarziu are in any position to make good on their claims due to them representing fringe parties that lack any influence over the formulation of their respective country’s foreign policy, but it also can’t be ruled out that Hungary and Romania could make such moves if Ukraine collapses, which is what President Putin was referring to in late December.
Two populist Central European politicians recently expressed hopes that their nations might one day reclaim the lands that they lost to Ukraine after World War II. Laszlo Toroczkai of Hungary’s “Our Homeland Movement” and Claudiu Tarziu of Romania’s “Union of Romanians” both made similar such statements in recent days. Their words follow President Putin’s remarks on this issue in late December when speaking at an Expanded Meeting of the Defense Board where he said the following:
“The western lands of Ukraine? We know how Ukraine obtained them. Stalin gave them away after World War II. He gave part of Polish lands, Lvov, and so on including several large regions with a population of ten million. Not to offend the Poles, he compensated for their losses by giving them the eastern German lands, the Danzig Corridor, and Danzig itself.
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He took some from Romania and some from Hungary and gave it to Ukraine.
The people who live there – many of them, at least, I know this for sure, 100 percent – they want to return to their historical homeland. The countries that lost these territories, primarily Poland, dream of having them back. In this sense, only Russia could be the guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. If they do not want it, so be it. History will put everything in its place.”
Neither Toroczkai nor Tarziu are in any position to make good on their claims due to them representing fringe parties that lack any influence over the formulation of their respective country’s foreign policy, but it also can’t be ruled out that Hungary and Romania could make such moves if Ukraine collapses. It’s precisely this scenario that President Putin was referring to, which could be premised on those two’s border-dwelling minorities in that former Soviet Republic calling for this if that happens.
They’re nowadays much less numerous than before their historical regions were artificially attached to Ukraine by Joseph Stalin after World War II, but they nevertheless still exist, and Kiev’s erosion of their language rights since 2015 inadvertently reawakened some of their irredentism sentiments. The related legislation was amended last December and earned praise from Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto during his trip to Ukraine earlier this week, but the damage to local perceptions wasn’t repaired.
That’s why the Russian leader said that “The people who live there – many of them, at least, I know this for sure, 100 percent – they want to return to their historical homeland.” This is only possible if the Ukrainian state collapses, however, which can’t be taken for granted. Each of the regions that Toroczkai and Tarziu claimed are also mostly inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians nowadays too, thus creating a moral quandary of sorts about what would happen to them in that event.
Many might not want to leave the place of their birth despite pressure to do so on the pretext that they’re descendants of those who moved there after 1945 and aren’t deeply rooted in those regions, in which case they’d either be forced from their homes (ethnically cleansed) or forced to join those states. Hungary nor Romania aren’t ethno-religiously homogenous so the last possibility shouldn’t be a problem in theory, but it might not be perfectly implemented in practice, nor will it please everyone involved.
In any case, the abovementioned quandary will likely remain within the realm of scenario forecasting for the foreseeable future, if not forever. The collapse of the Ukrainian state, should it even happen, probably wouldn’t be total in the sense of a security vacuum suddenly emerging in its western borderlands. Nearby Galicia, which used to be under the control of the Second Polish Republic, is the heartland of contemporary Ukrainian nationalism and would predictably form a “national redoubt”.
What’s meant by this is that the Ukrainian Armed Forces and their ultra-nationalist (fascist) militia allies are expected to retreat to that region to join those of their fellows that are already there in order to form a rump state. Former Pentagon official Stephen Bryen, who served as staff director of the Near East Subcommittee of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, reported in late January that back-up plans are in place for relocating the capital to Lvov.
While it’s unlikely that Hungary, Romania, or Poland would unilaterally defy their shared American ally’s will by dealing such a powerful blow to rump Ukraine at that sensitive moment in its reformation, let alone in tandem or altogether, it also can’t completely be dismissed either. That’s why the Ukrainian state should accede to Russia’s security guarantee requests of demilitarization, denazification, and restoring constitutional neutrality in order to not risk losing any more territory than it already has.