Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban — a key Putin ally — makes first wartime visit to Ukraine

In Europe

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) in the Europa building prior the start of the meeting on June 27, 2024, in Brussels, Belgium.

Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday for his first wartime visit to the battle-torn country.

Orban, widely viewed as Russia’s closest ally within the European Union and a vocal critic of NATO’s support for Kyiv, is due to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss peace in the European region.

In a social media post following the encounter, Zelenskyy said the pair had held talks over “the most fundamental issues of our neighbourly relations – trade, cross-border cooperation, infrastructure, and energy,” as well as touching on “everything that affects the lives of our people in both Ukraine and Hungary.”

He noted that this dialogue could lay the groundwork for “a new bilateral document” between the two nations, although no such agreement was announced on Tuesday.

Orban, meanwhile, communicated Hungary’s intentions to improve ties with Ukraine and sign a broad bilateral cooperation agreement, while urging Zelenskyy to consider a quick cease-fire to accelerate peace talks, Reuters reported.

Zelenskyy has sought to gain traction for his 10-point peace framework, first released in November 2022, with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month setting out his own terms under which truce negotiations could take place. Neither proposal has been accepted by the opposing side, however.

Orban’s visit crowns months of frequent opposition to the EU’s financial aid packages for Kyiv. In a historic, pre-agreed move, Orban left the room in December so EU leaders could take a unanimous stance on opening accession talks with the war-torn country. The bloc formally started membership discussions with Ukraine and Moldova last week, although a long and strenuous path lies ahead.

A self-proclaimed “peacemaker,” Orban and his administration have refused to send weapons to Ukraine and have dissented against deeper NATO support of nonmember Kyiv — but have also agreed not to block NATO initiatives. Orban absented from last month’s Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland, where Hungary was instead represented by Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

The Hungarian prime minister has also been one of the few Western leaders to meet the increasingly isolated Kremlin leader Putin since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In October, he reassured Putin that Hungary “never wanted to confront Russia,” The Associated Press reported.

This week’s visit comes a day after Orban’s nationalistic government assumed the rotating EU presidency under a “Make Europe Great Again” slogan sharply reminiscent of the 2016 campaign strapline of former U.S. President Donald Trump. It also takes place two weeks ahead of a key July 9-11 NATO summit where departing Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has signaled he expects allies to agree on further long-term financial and security assistance for Ukraine.

While not formally on the agenda of his meeting with Zelenskyy, Orban has previously taken issue with Ukraine’s alleged failure to safeguard the rights of its ethnic Hungarian minority, largely converged in the Zakarpattia region of western Ukraine.

Hungary has outlined a number of demands over the rights of the minority group as a precursor to permitting Kyiv’s entry into the EU.

In a key concession, Ukraine’s Parliament in December last year passed amendments that now allow institutions of higher education to freely choose their language of instruction, excluding Russian — abating some of the long-held consternation of regional minorities since the passing of Ukraine’s 2017 law that mandated Ukrainian as the required language of study in state schools from the fifth grade onward, sparking EU concerns.

Read More: Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban — a key Putin ally — makes first wartime visit to Ukraine

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