Orban visits Zelensky in Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a critic of providing military aid to Ukraine, visited Kyiv on Tuesday, marking his first trip to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion over two years ago. The meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky took place during Hungary’s six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the E.U., which gives Orban a platform to voice the views of Europe’s far-right and potentially undermine Ukraine’s call for more support.

Throughout his tenure, Orban has consistently blocked or weakened European efforts to provide Ukraine with security assistance, frustrating Zelensky. Hungary, as a member of NATO, does not allow donated Western weapons to be transferred to Ukraine across their shared border. Despite these obstacles, Hungary attended a peace conference organized by Ukraine last month and ultimately supported a joint statement calling for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” as the basis for any peace agreement.

During the meeting on Tuesday, Orban told Zelensky that the war is “the most important issue for Europe.” Orban suggested that Ukraine should agree to a cease-fire with Russia as part of an effort to begin negotiations to end the fighting, a proposal that contradicts Ukraine’s 10-point peace plan, which does not include agreeing to a cessation of hostilities while Russian troops are still occupying Ukraine.

The meeting between Orban and Zelensky was seen as a positive development by Zsuzsanna Végh, an analyst specializing in Central Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Végh noted that the visit could help Orban portray himself as a more constructive actor and advocate for peace. However, she also pointed out that Orban’s position regarding a cease-fire before negotiations continues to reflect a disregard for Kyiv’s views.

In addition to the contentious issue of military aid, Hungary has also claimed that Kyiv is failing to guarantee the rights of its Hungarian minority in Ukraine’s western Zakarpattia region. Orban’s government has presented a list of 11 conditions related to the minority’s legal protection before it agrees to Ukraine’s E.U. membership.

Some E.U. lawmakers have expressed concern that Hungary’s pro-Russian track record makes it unfit for the role of the rotating presidency of the European Union. Along with hindering aid to Ukraine, Orban has also opposed E.U. sanctions on Russia and is one of the only Western leaders to have met Russian President Vladimir Putin since the war began.

Orban’s positions on Ukraine and Russia’s invasion have made him an outlier in the European Union, but the recent success of hard- and far-right parties in Europe may give him more allies and influence. The success of Marine Le Pen’s far-right party in France and the first round of French parliamentary elections has bolstered Orban’s confidence to push his agenda.

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