‘Peace mission’: Hungary’s Orban meets Putin in Russia, defying EU leaders | Russia-Ukraine war News

Right-wing nationalist makes trip with no official mandate from the European bloc, causing outrage.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, with no mandate from the European Union.

“The #peace mission continues. Second stop: #Moscow,” Orban posted on X on Friday, his trip to the Russian capital coming days after a first stop in Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Hungary took over the rotating EU presidency this month, with Orban saying he wants to use it to advocate for an end to the fighting in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2022.

In televised comments at the beginning of their meeting, Putin suggested that Orban had come to Moscow as a representative of the European Council, despite several European officials having condemned the visit.

“I understand that this time you have come not just as our long-standing partner but as president of the council,” Putin told Orban, adding that he expected him to outline “the position of European partners” on Ukraine.

But EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Orban had not received any mandate to visit Moscow, consigning the visit to “the framework of … bilateral relations between Hungary and Russia”.

The Hungarian leader “is thus not representing the EU in any form,” Borrell said in a statement.

Orban, who is seen as the closest European leader to Putin, has regularly blocked and delayed the 27-member bloc’s efforts on financial and military aid for Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia.

Hungary has also angered Ukraine by criticising the EU opening formal membership talks with Kyiv, although it ended up abstaining rather than vetoing the move.

Borrell also said that Putin “has been indicted by the International Criminal Court and an arrest warrant released for his role in relation to the forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Friday that “appeasement will not stop” Putin. “Only unity and determination will pave the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine,” she said on X.

In Kyiv on Tuesday, Orban urged Zelenskyy to work towards a “time-limited” ceasefire with Russia to speed up peace talks.

The Ukrainian leader instead called on Orban to back Kyiv’s steps to work for peace in conjunction with international partners.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shake hands after a joint news briefing, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine July 2, 2024.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shake hands after a joint news briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 2, 2024 [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

No mandate

While Hungary may hold the EU’s presidency for six months, European Council President Charles Michel pointed out on Thursday that it had “no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU”.

“The European Council is clear: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine is the victim. No discussions about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine,” he posted on X.

The EU has firmly opposed Russia’s war on Ukraine, imposing 14 rounds of unprecedented sanctions on Russia over the invasion, which Orban has repeatedly sought to soften.

Orban insisted on Friday that peace cannot be achieved without dialogue.

“If we just sit in Brussels, we won’t be able to get any closer to peace. Action must be taken,” Orban said on Hungarian state radio when asked about his Tuesday visit to Ukraine.

His Moscow visit would be the first by an EU leader since Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in April 2022. Orban and Putin last met in October 2023 in Beijing, where they discussed energy cooperation.

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