Sacking hundreds of veteran officers is a path to meritocracy, the defense minister claims FILE PHOTO. Hungarian Minister of Defence Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky (L) and his Austrian counterpart, Klaudia Tanner in Budapest, Hungary. © Tibor Illyes / MTI via AP

A massive overhaul of the Hungarian military officers’ corps is not driven by any secret agenda, and will trim a bloated leadership, according to the defense minister. Critics of the government have called it a bid to purge those considered disloyal, and distance the country from NATO.

Budapest will sack hundreds of senior officers, mostly colonels and lieutenant colonels, but also some generals, Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky confirmed this week in an interview with Bloomberg, published on Tuesday. He described it has a regular reform, and rejected opposition claims to the contrary.

“You can’t have hidden agendas when doing things on this scale,” Szalay-Bobrovniczky said. “I want to introduce meritocracy and competition in the defense forces.”

Last month, Hungary simplified the retirement process for some military personnel. People who reach the age of 45 and have at least 25 years of active service can be sacked by the defense minister with two months’ notice, under the new rules.

The change sparked speculation that the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban was planning a “purge” in favor of its loyalists. Agnes Vadai, a former Defense Ministry state secretary, claimed during a TV interview that it would result in a “de-NATOfication” of the Hungarian army.

Orban stands in contrast to other leaders of NATO states with his refusal to arm Ukraine against Russia, and has called for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict in the neighbouring country.

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The news outlet Telex has claimed that between 100 and 200 officers will be sacked, while noting the difficulty of contacting sources in the military leadership, willing to offer details. Rumors among troops were split over the nature of the reform, the report added. The defense minister told Bloomberg that the exact number of forced retirements would be revealed in February.

Szalay-Bobrovniczky told Bloomberg that his department’s plan was benefiting younger, physically fitter, multilingual officers, who have on-hand experience gained in NATO missions. It went in line with Budapest’s decade-long roadmap to phase out older Soviet-designed weapon systems and procure modern Western arms, he added.

Hungary wants to have partnerships with leading European arms producers to launch manufacturing on its soil, the minister said. It will be “not only for the needs of the Hungarian defense forces, but also for international sales,” Szalay-Bobrovniczky explained. (RT)