Viktor Orbán meets Vladimir Putin despite EU outcry


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Viktor Orbán met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, prompting an outcry from his EU and Nato allies who warned that the Hungarian prime minister did not represent them.

The unannounced trip is a stark demonstration of Orbán’s position as one of the west’s most pro-Russian leaders, in what officials said breached diplomatic protocol and undermined EU and Nato unity.

Orbán, whose country took over the rotating EU presidency on Monday, arrived in Russia just days after a surprise trip to Kyiv — his first since Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, in an apparent effort to broker peace between the two sides.

Speaking to reporters in the Kremlin after the three-hour meeting with Putin, Orbán said he had realised Ukraine and Russia’s stances were “very far from one another”.

Putin demanded a “full and final end to the conflict”, which he said required Ukraine to surrender four of its eastern provinces to Russia. Russia also had “other conditions”, Putin said, which have previously included a demand that Ukraine pledges never to join Nato.

Ukraine has said Putin’s terms amount to capitulation and would leave the country vulnerable to further attacks.

Orbán said he would continue to work on a possible end to the war during the six months his country holds the EU’s presidency.

“There are almost no countries left that are in contact with both sides. Hungary is one of them.”

But several EU leaders stressed that they had not mandated the Hungarian premier to speak on their behalf, a position also underlined by Nato’s leadership.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday said Orbán was in Moscow not as a representative of the rotating EU presidency but as Hungarian PM. Scholz said the EU’s attitude was clear: “We condemn the Russian war of aggression.”

The Kremlin said Hungary had first suggested the meeting on Wednesday after Orbán’s visit to Kyiv, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Hungary informed Nato of the Moscow trip in advance, but not the EU. When EU leaders tried to reach him on Thursday evening, they were rebuffed by Budapest, people familiar with the attempted conversations said.

“It was not a discussion . . . it was my staff being informed by his staff,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general. “He doesn’t represent Nato.”

“I expect Hungary to stand by Nato decisions that they are part of . . . making it absolutely clear that it is Russia who is responsible for this war. Russia is the perpetrator,” he added.

On his way to Moscow, Orbán acknowledged that he was not representing the EU.

“Hungary does not have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the European Union. I would never pretend. But I can explore the situation,” he said.

Orbán’s trip is the first by an EU leader to Russia since Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer visited Moscow in April 2022 in a failed attempt to convince Putin to end the war.

The EU’s outgoing top diplomat, Josep Borrell, on Friday said Orbán’s visit to Moscow was an “exclusively” bilateral one. Estonian Prime Minister and the bloc’s pick as Borrell’s successor, Kaja Kallas, said on X that Orbán “is exploiting the EU presidency position to sow confusion.”

An EU diplomat told the Financial Times that “with such a meeting the Hungarian presidency ends before it has really begun” and that the “scepticism of EU member states was unfortunately justified — it’s all about promoting Budapest’s interests”.

Hungary holding the rotating EU presidency means Orbán’s ministers are in charge of chairing the bloc’s meetings — but the premier has no formal representation role.

European Council president Charles Michel, who represents the bloc’s 27 leaders, was the first to post on X on Thursday that Orbán was not speaking on behalf of the EU.

Despite his recent overture to Kyiv, which included three hours of talks with Zelenskyy, Orbán has consistently taken a pro-Russia stance since 2022, delaying EU sanctions on Moscow and opposing aid to Kyiv.

Orbán was also the first western leader to meet Putin at a conference in China last October after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for war crimes allegedly perpetrated by the Russian leader.

Daniel Hegedűs, a political analyst with German Marshall Fund, a think-tank, said these first few days had already shown what the EU can expect from Hungary’s six-month presidency: “disruption, instability and trolling”.

“The Moscow visit is being framed as an endeavour by Orbán to mediate Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, but no one sees the effort as sincere or legitimate,” Hegedűs said.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin and Christopher Miller in Kyiv



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