Viktor Orbán arrives in Kyiv on first wartime trip to Ukraine

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Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday, marking the first time since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that the EU’s most pro-Russian leader has visited the war-torn country.

Orbán, the EU and Nato’s most prominent critic of ongoing military aid to Kyiv, and one of the few western leaders to have met Russian President Vladimir Putin since the 2022 invasion, arrived a day after his country assumed the rotating presidency of the EU Council.

Orbán met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials just days after the two spoke at an EU summit in Brussels. They shared a private conversation before the Ukrainian urged all EU leaders to step up their military support to Kyiv.

The leaders would deliver brief statements at the conclusion of their meeting in Kyiv but would not hold a press conference, according to a Ukrainian official close to Zelenskyy.

The Hungarian premier has regularly opposed financial aid to Ukraine and left the room during an EU leaders’ meeting in December in order not to vote against a decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine — a significant milestone on the country’s path to becoming a full EU member.

Orbán’s government has also vetoed seven legal decisions backed by the EU’s other 26 member states that would release €6.6bn tied to weapons supplies to Ukraine. It prevented the start of formal EU accession talks between Kyiv and Brussels for much of the past 12 months, before lifting its block last month.

Budapest has justified its hardline position on Ukraine by claiming Kyiv is failing to meet its demands in guaranteeing the rights of the country’s Hungarian minority. The EU accession criteria include minority rights.

Almost all EU leaders except Orbán have visited Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. He is also one of only two — along with Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer — to have met Putin in that time.

At a conference in Budapest in December, the Hungarian prime minister said he had accepted an invitation from Zelenskyy to visit Kyiv but added: “I told him I’d be at his disposal. We just have to clarify one question: about what?”

Zelenskyy also invited Orbán to the Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland last month. Orbán declined but sent his foreign minister Péter Szijjártó.

In reaction to efforts to prevent Hungary from taking up the EU’s rotating presidency, Orbán has made a pledge to other leaders to be a responsible broker of EU legislation, according to people close to the talks.

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