Home International Hungary’s Orban visits Ukraine, proposes ceasefire to speed up peace talks

Hungary’s Orban visits Ukraine, proposes ceasefire to speed up peace talks

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is an outspoken critic of Western military aid to Ukraine and has the warmest relations of any EU leader with Russian President Vladimir Putin, held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during his first trip to Kyiv in more than a decade.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shake hands before their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 2, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Valentyn Ogirenko

By Anastasiia Malenko and Anita Komuves

KYIV – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday to consider a ceasefire to accelerate an end to the war with Russia and also said he wanted a big co-operation agreement with Kyiv.

Orban, who is an outspoken critic of Western military aid to Ukraine and has the warmest relations of any EU leader with Russian President Vladimir Putin, held talks with Zelenskiy during his first trip to Kyiv in more than a decade.

In brief joint statements to reporters after the talks, Orban said he valued Kyiv’s push to promote Zelenskiy’s vision of peace at an international summit in May in Switzerland and its aim to hold a second, follow-up summit later this year.

“I asked the president to think about whether we could reverse the order, and speed up peace talks with making a ceasefire first,” Orban said.

“A ceasefire connected to a deadline would give a chance to speed up peace talks. I explored this possibility with the president and I am grateful for his honest answers and negotiation.”

Zelenskiy, who spoke before Orban, did not respond to those comments.

The Ukrainian leader touted the possibility of a broad bilateral cooperation agreement between Ukraine and Hungary.

“…the content of our dialogue today on all issues can become the basis for a bilateral document between our states, a document that will regulate all our mutual relations,” he said.

Welcoming Zelenskiy’s comments, Orban said Hungary would like to help in modernising Ukraine’s economy.

Ties between the neighbours came under heavy strain after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, with Budapest often opposing European Union efforts to support Kyiv.

Under Orban, who upset Western partners by holding talks with Putin last October, Hungary has repeatedly accused Ukraine of curbing the rights of roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the far west of Ukraine.

Ukraine, meanwhile, is keen to secure Hungary’s backing as it relies heavily on financial and military support from the 27-member EU, where unanimity is needed for many decisions.

CHALLENGES

Orban linked Tuesday’s surprise Ukraine visit to Hungary having assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council on Monday.

“The aim of the Hungarian presidency is to contribute to solving the challenges ahead of the European Union. That’s why my first trip was to Kyiv,” Orban wrote on Facebook after he arrived in Kyiv.

Last week, the EU opened formal membership talks with Kyiv at its summit in Brussels, giving Ukraine a morale-lifting boost, although a long and tough road still lies ahead before it can join the bloc.

Zelenskiy and Orban were filmed on the sidelines of that summit in what looked like an emotional exchange.

Last year, Orban told Putin that Hungary had never wanted to oppose Russia. In early 2024, it took the EU leaders weeks to break the Hungarian prime minister’s veto to extend 50 billion euros ($53.67 billion) in new aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine has denied Budapest’s assertion that it is restricting the rights of Hungarian speakers in western Ukraine but says it is open to addressing any concerns.

Kyiv passed a law in 2017 that required all schools to teach students over the age of 10 in the Ukrainian language. Hungary saw this as a breach of the ethnic Hungarian minority’s rights.

Some changes were made in December 2023 when the issue became critical for Kyiv’s EU accession talks. Budapest said the changes were an improvement but didn’t go far enough.

– REUTERS

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