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Orban visits Putin on 'peace trip,' EU laments 'appeasement'

Published July 5, 2024last updated July 5, 2024

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his stops in Kyiv and then Moscow "took the first step to restore dialogue." He said the two sides remained "far apart." Meanwhile, other EU leaders condemned the visit.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands uring a meeting at the Kremlin, in Moscow
Orban's trip to Moscow comes only days after he made a similar unannounced trip to UkraineImage: Valeriy Sharifulin/SNA/IMAGO

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday to discuss the war in Ukraine.

Putin said he wanted to take the opportunity to "discuss the nuances that have developed" over the conflict with Orban.

Orban said at a press conference with Putin in Moscow that Hungary viewed its six-month stint holding the rotating European Council presidency as a peace mission. 

"Many steps are needed to end the war, but we took the first step to restore dialogue," Orban said, adding that "points of view remained far from each other in Kyiv and Moscow." 

Hungary's Orban talks Ukraine peace with Putin

The Hungarian PM also visited Kyiv, for the first time since Russia's invasion, earlier in the week.

Putin, meanwhile, called the conversation with Orban "frank and useful," and reiterated his demand that Ukraine pull its troops out of four eastern regions claimed — but not fully controlled — by Moscow. 

"We are talking about the full withdrawal of all troops from the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, and from the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions," Putin said. 

Criticism from fellow EU leaders

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned "appeasement will not stop Putin. Only unity and determination will pave the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine," she wrote on X.

The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell was more blunt, saying Orban does not represent the European Union on his visit. He dismissed the visit as a billateral meeting between Moscow and Budapest.

Borrell's incoming replacement, outgoing Estonian PM Kaja Kallas, said that Orban "in no way represents the EU or the EU's positions." 

"He is exploiting the EU presidency to sow confusion," Kallas said.

Hungary's six-month EU presidency gives the central European country influence over the bloc's agenda and priorities for those months.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the bloc's "clear message is that Ukraine can count on our solidarity, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin cannot count on our solidarity and support waning."

Berlin says Hungary cancelled foreign minister meeting

Meanwhile, a German Foreign Ministry official said Friday that Hungary had canceled a meeting between the German foreign minister and her Hungarian counterpart scheduled for Monday in Budapest.

The German ministry said it was "astonished" and that a "serious and honest" discussion was needed after Orban's meeting with Putin.

The Reuters news agency cited the German foreign ministry official as saying the meeting would be rescheduled.

DW correspondent: 'Optics' of visit 'very useful' for Putin at home

Emily Sherwin, DW's correspondent in Riga and formerly in Moscow prior to our reporters being told to leave Russia in 2022, described Orban's visit as "something that I think Vladimir Putin has been waiting a long time for." 

"He's been waiting for Western leaders to come to him. He's been waiting, in a way, for Western leaders to get tired of the war in Ukraine," Sherwin said.

"Now, that hasn't happened. But the optics of this visit, of an EU official essentially coming to Moscow — even when EU leaders today were distancing themselves from Orban — those optics are very useful for Putin."

She said it was important for Putin domestically to be able to portray himself "as not being as isolated as the West might think."

Orban, meanwhile, sought to emphasize how few Western leaders were still able to hold productive talks in Moscow, Sherwin said. 

"When it comes to Orban, he was firmly positioning himself as a potential intermediary for the Ukraine conflict. He said that there's hardly any leaders nowadays that are able to talk to both sides in the conflict. And today he was trying to portray himself as one of those 'very few leaders,' as he said," Sherwin said.

Can Orban speak for the EU? DW's Teri Schultz

Ukraine says it must be involved in any peace talks

In a statement, Ukraine's foreign ministry said there could be "no agreements on Ukraine without Ukraine."

"The decision to make this trip was made by the Hungarian side without any agreement or coordination with Ukraine," the foreign ministry added.

On Tuesday, Orban was in Kyiv where he asked Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, "to speed up peace talks by making a cease-fire first." 

Zelenskyy did not respond to the proposal.

Fico admires Orban's move

Meanwhile, in a rare show of support, Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico said he would have joined Orban in his visists to Kyiv and Moscow if his health had allowed it.

"I want to express my admiration to the Hungarian premier for traveling to Kyiv and Moscow without hesitating," said Fico, speaking in his first public appearance since the May 15 assassination attempt.

"If my state of health allowed me to go, I would have loved to join him," he added.

Under Orban and Fico, seen as Russia's closest allies in the European Union, both Hungary and Slovakia have refused to provide military aid to Ukraine.     

NATO was informed about Orban's Moscow visit

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had been informed about Orban's trip to Moscow in advance. Orban was traveling in his capacity as Hungarian prime minister and will not represent NATO, he added.

Orban's trip was also criticized as "counterproductive" by the White House.

Orban's visit "will not advance the cause of peace and is counterproductive to promoting Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Hungary joined NATO in 1999, and Orban took the reins of power in 2010. Unlike other NATO leaders, Orban has continued to maintain close ties with Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The 32 leaders of the military alliance are set to meet next week for the annual summit in Washington D.C.

dh, lo, msh/rm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)