Hungary's Orban meets Putin in Moscow in rare European visit

Hungary's Orban meets Putin in Moscow in rare European visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Moscow on Friday for a rare meeting with a European leader to discuss peace proposals for Ukraine.

Orbán's visit comes only days after he made a similar unannounced trip to Ukraine, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and proposed that Ukraine consider agreeing to an immediate cease-fire with Russia.

“The number of countries that can talk to both warring sides is diminishing,” Orbán said. “Hungary is slowly becoming the only country in Europe that can speak to everyone.”

The reaction from Ukraine was swift. "The decision to make this trip was made by the Hungarian side without approval or coordination with Ukraine." Furthermore stating, "We remind that the principle of "no agreements on Ukraine without Ukraine" remains inviolable for our country and call on all states to strictly adhere to it," the foreign ministry stated.

In comments at the beginning of their meeting that were televised, Putin suggested that Orbán had come to Moscow as a representative of the European Council, despite several European officials having condemned the visit.

Such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen who expressed on social media platform X that conciliation will not provide peace.

The Hungarian prime minister, widely seen as having the warmest relations with Vladimir Putin among all European Union leaders, has routinely blocked, delayed or watered down EU efforts to assist Ukraine and impose sanctions on Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.

He has long argued for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine but without outlining what that might mean for the country's territorial integrity or future security.

That posture has frustrated Hungary’s EU and NATO allies, which have broadly considered Russia’s actions as a breach of international law and a threat to the security of countries in Eastern Europe.

The visit to Moscow was Orbán’s idea and was only agreed to on Wednesday, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Russian state news agency Tass.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban shake hands during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 5, 2024.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban shake hands during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 5, 2024. - Valeriy Sharifulin/Sputnik

Putin told Orbán that he wanted to hear about the position of his “European colleagues” on Ukraine and discuss Moscow's plan for peace as well as bilateral relations. Orbán noted that the meeting was the fourteenth time the leaders have held bilateral talks since 2009.

Later at a news conference, Putin claimed Ukraine was not ready to discuss a cease-fire. “It should not just be a ceasefire, or a temporary suspension of fire, or some kind of pause that the Kyiv regime could use to recover losses, regroup and rearm. We are talking about the complete withdrawal of all Ukrainian troops from the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions," Putin said.

European leaders criticise visit

European officials and leaders have heavily criticised Orbán's visit to Moscow, something only one other European leader has done since the start of the conflict.

“This is about appeasement. It’s not about peace,” European Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer said.

Hungary at the beginning of the month took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council, a largely formal role that can be used to shape the bloc’s policy agenda. Orbán has said he wants to use the presidency to advocate for an end to the fighting in Ukraine.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a statement that Orbán’s visit to Moscow “takes place, exclusively, in the framework of the bilateral relations between Hungary and Russia.”

“Prime Minister Orbán has not received any mandate from the EU Council to visit Moscow," Borrell said, adding that his "position excludes official contacts between the EU and President Putin. The Hungarian Prime Minister is thus not representing the EU in any form.”

He noted that Putin has been indicted by the International Criminal Court and an arrest warrant released for his role in relation to the forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.

In an email on Friday, Orbán's press chief, Bertalan Havasi, said the Hungarian leader's trip comes “as part of his peace mission."

Speaking to Hungarian state radio before departing Friday morning, Orbán said he was aware that his country’s presidency of the EU “does not entitle us to negotiate on behalf of anyone.”

Orbán is the first European leader to visit Russia and sit down for talks with Putin since Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer visited Moscow in April 2022, just weeks after Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine. During that visit he said he raised the issue of crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine by Russian forces.