Orbán Makes First Ukraine Visit Since War Began, Holding Peace Talks with Zelenskyy

July 2, 2024 by No Comments

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Kyiv on Tuesday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, his first trip to the country since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022.

Orbán’s press chief, Bertalan Havasi, confirmed to Hungarian news agency MTI that the prime minister arrived in the Ukrainian capital in the morning for the discussions. Havasi stated that the primary focus of the meeting would be exploring opportunities for peacebuilding as Ukraine defends itself against Russia’s invasion.

Kyiv officials did not publicly acknowledge Orbán’s arrival.

Orbán’s visit was a significant move considering the long-standing tensions in their relationship. Widely recognized as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally within the EU, Orbán has consistently blocked, delayed, or weakened EU initiatives aimed at supporting Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Moscow for its war, frustrating both Zelenskyy and other EU leaders.

He has also accused Kyiv of mistreating an ethnic Hungarian minority in Ukraine’s western Zakarpattia region, a claim he has used to justify his refusal to provide weapons to Ukraine or allow their transfer across the two countries’ shared border.

The self-proclaimed “illiberal” leader has been repeatedly criticized by his European counterparts for dismantling democratic institutions within Hungary and acting as an obstructionist force regarding key EU policy priorities. The bloc has frozen over $20 billion in funding for Budapest due to allegations of rule-of-law violations and corruption, and Orbán has actively engaged in anti-EU campaigns portraying the bloc as an overcentralized, oppressive entity.

This visit occurs on the same day Hungary assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, a position with limited actual power but capable of shaping the bloc’s agenda. Hungarian officials have indicated that they will act as “honest brokers” in this role, despite concerns from some EU lawmakers that Hungary’s democratic record makes it unsuitable to lead the bloc.

Orbán’s visit also comes as he seeks to gather members for a new nationalist alliance that he hopes will soon become the largest right-wing group in the European Parliament. On Sunday, Orbán met in Vienna with the leaders of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party and the main Czech opposition party, announcing the formation of the new group, “Patriots for Europe.”

The trio would need to attract lawmakers from at least four more countries to successfully establish a group within Europe’s newly elected parliament, which held elections in June. Right-wing nationalist parties across Europe strengthened their presence in the elections, but ideological disagreements over the war in Ukraine and cooperation with Russia have often hindered deeper alliances among some of these parties.