Hungary buys Swedish fighter jets, prepares to approve NATO bid


BUDAPEST/STOCKHOLM – Hungary said on Friday it had signed a deal to buy four Saab (SAABb.ST) 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, 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.__The Nation