Hungary buys Swedish fighter jets, prepares to approve NATO bid

    The Hawk
    February23/ 2024
    Last Updated:

    Amidst geopolitical shifts and Russia's aggression in Ukraine, this deal marks a significant stride in military cooperation and transatlantic security, as Prime Ministers Viktor Orban and Ulf Kristersson navigate diplomatic complexities to reinforce mutual defense commitments.

    Ulf Kristersson and Viktor Orban

    Budapest/Stockholm: Hungary said on Friday it had signed a deal to buy four Saab JAS Gripen fighter jets from Sweden, as Budapest finally prepared to approve Stockholm's bid to join NATO after nearly two years of delays.

    Hungary was the last member of the transatlantic military alliance holding out against Sweden's historic application to join, which it made in 2022 in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban - who relented last week saying parliament would vote on the ratification on Monday - met Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and said he had managed to "rebuild trust".

    Hungary will buy the jets and expand a related logistics contract, Orban said. Hungary currently leases Gripen aircraft under a contract signed in 2001.

    "We not only keep our air defence capability but will increase it ... which means our commitment to NATO will strengthen and so will our participation in NATO's joint operations," Orban told a joint press conference with Kristersson.

    Kristersson said he welcomed the deal. "As you know and I know we do not agree on everything but we agree that we should cooperate where possible," he said, standing next to Orban.

    Orban, whose nationalist government has kept close economic ties with Russia, had repeatedly delayed the ratification, citing grievances over Sweden criticising Hungary over its record on rule-of-law.

    Sweden's NATO application - a major shift away from its decades of non-alignment - was also initially held up by Turkey, who accused Stockholm of supporting what it called terrorist groups.

    When Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan signalled in July that he would give Sweden the green light, the U.S. said it would move ahead with the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in consultation with Congress.

    Sweden's shift towards NATO

    Sweden, which has a long coastline on the Baltic Sea, could become a vital logistics hub for NATO in Northern Europe.

    Military non-alignment had been a point of pride for Swedes and a clear majority were against NATO membership before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    However, when the Social Democrats, the dominant political force in Sweden over the last 100 years, changed its mind on NATO membership, pollsters saw the biggest shift in public opinion on record. NATO membership now has a clear majority in parliament and among the public.

    Sweden has already regularly participated in exercises in the region.

    Orban - who has refused to send weapons to Ukraine and repeatedly criticised western sanctions against Russia - earlier on Friday again urged a ceasefire in Ukraine.

    He also endorsed Donald Trump's bid to return to the U.S. presidency this year. "We hope the current president will go, and President Trump will return and he will have free hands to make peace," Orban said on state radio.

    He said a truce was the only solution as "Russia cannot be forced on its knees in the military sense ... This conflict (in Ukraine) has no solution on the battleground," Orban said.

    Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, joined NATO in April last year.