Friday, May 24, 2024

Why is Hungary’s Orban blocking aid to Ukraine?

(BBC News) Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned he could “pull the handbrake” on future financial aid to Ukraine, after slapping a veto on a $55-billion EU package intended to help his neighbour survive the next three years.

It is not the first time he has stood in the way of his European Union colleagues doing their best to help Kyiv through Russia’s invasion.

However, he did, grudgingly, let Ukraine and Moldova start formal negotiations on joining the EU, without actually supporting the idea. By walking out of the room, he allowed the other 26 EU leaders to vote for it unanimously.

He still declared it a “bad decision” that Hungary could stop any time in the future.

So what is Viktor Orban’s problem with Ukraine?

He argues his position is both pragmatic and constructive, although there is clearly personal antipathy between him and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

While other EU leaders queue up at the Brussels summit to have their photos taken with the Ukrainian leader, Orban turns away.

Last weekend, Zelenskyy was locked in intense conversation with Orban when the two men attended the inauguration of Argentina’s new president. The Ukrainian president later said he had asked for one reason why Hungary was blocking Ukraine’s EU membership.

Orban seems rather more at ease with Vladimir Putin than with Zelenskyy, and is the Russian leader’s closest ally in Europe.

He has trodden a careful line in condemning Russia’s invasion while steering clear of criticizing its president, and recently became the first western leader to meet Putin since April 2022.

“Hungary never wanted to confront Russia. Hungary always has been eager to expand contacts,” Russian state TV quoted him as telling Putin when they held talks in Beijing in October. Some reports suggested he even adopted Putin’s term for the war, “military operation”.

The sight of an EU and NATO leader shaking hands with Putin angered Orban’s western allies. The US ambassador to Budapest complained that while Russia was striking Ukrainian civilians, “Hungary pleads for business deals.”

Hungary’s prime minister argues that Ukraine cannot win the war, and should therefore be persuaded by its allies to seek an immediate ceasefire, followed by negotiations.

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