Viktor Orban, Putin’s greatest European ally, makes first trip to Kyiv since start of war

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is paying his first visit to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale war began in February 2022, according to a Hungarian government spokesperson.

“Viktor Orban arrived in Kyiv this morning to discuss European peace with President Volodymyr Zelensky,” spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs posted on X on Tuesday.

Talks between the two leaders will focus on “possibilities for achieving peace, as well as current issues in Hungarian-Ukrainian bilateral relations,” Kovacs added.

Orban has been a divisive figure regarding European support for Ukraine. The authoritarian Hungarian leader has regularly attempted to steamroll European Union initiatives offering further military and financial support to Kyiv during the conflict.

Hungary’s prime minister also has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has frequently come under scrutiny. Their bond is underpinned by both economic cooperation and some shared values.

Both leaders have also enacted anti-LGBTQ policies and clamped down on freedom of speech in their countries. Hungary has supported Russia at a United Nations level and rejected EU sanctions following Putin’s aggression in Ukraine as early as 2014, after Russia illegally annexed Crimea.

Tuesday’s meeting comes as Orban and Hungary take control of the EU Council’s rotating presidency, which changes every six months. During each six-month period, the country controlling the presidency does not take control of the EU’s overall agenda, but does have a platform through which they can hammer home their own priorities.

On the EU Council’s website, it likens holding the presidency “to someone hosting a dinner, making sure their guests all gather in harmony,” adding that to “guarantee effectiveness, the presidency acts as an ‘honest broker,’ rising above the holder’s own national interest.”

Orban took control of the presidency on Monday with a call to “Make Europe Great Again,” a reference to Donald Trump’s political slogan that will alarm many of his European counterparts who are braced for the former US president’s potential return to the White House, concerned about what it will mean for the EU.

Other key European diplomatic meetings are planned for July. NATO will celebrate 75 years of the alliance in Washington, DC on July 9-11. The agenda for that event is expected to be dominated by long-term plans to support Ukraine and conversations about its eventual accession to the alliance.

The European Political Community (EPC), a forum for 47 European countries, inside and outside the EU, to discuss the continent’s strategic challenges, will also meet on July 18 in the United Kingdom. Ukraine and Hungary are both members of the EPC.

It is expected that Ukraine will dominate that agenda and Zelensky may attend the meeting in person. Orban may have had this in mind when timing this trip to Kyiv, ensuring that his first meeting with Ukraine’s president since the start of the war was not in such a public and high-stakes diplomatic setting.

This post appeared first on cnn.com
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