Zelensky warns Orban of consequences of EU snub

Volodymyr Zelensky warned Viktor Orban his decision to snub Ukraine’s EU aspirations would have a negative impact on the entire bloc.

A source close to the Ukrainian president said he confronted the Hungarian prime minister over the “role of Hungary in the overall European political environment”.

Footage showed the pair having an animated discussion as they met on the sidelines of the inauguration of Javier Milei, Argentina’s newly elected president.

The apparent chance meeting came days before a European leaders summit to decide on whether Kyiv could be offered formal talks to join the bloc and a €50 billion financial lifeline for the war-torn country.

“It was as frank as possible and obviously it was about our European affairs,” Mr Zelensky said late on Sunday in his nightly video address.

While Mr Zelensky’s closest aides remained largely tight-lipped over the discussion, he is preparing to blame the entire EU for failing to convince Mr Orban to open accession talks.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the National Congress, in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mr Zelensky, left, said he had a 'frank' conversation with Mr Orban - REUTERS/Matias Baglietto

“It was very clear that the topic goes far beyond Ukraine,” Olga Stefanishyna, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister, told a group of European journalists, including The Telegraph, on Monday.

“It’s about the role of Hungary in the overall European political environment.”

“It would be a failure of the entire EU, not the veto of one leader. It would be a failure of all of the European Union,” she added on the prospect of Hungary blocking membership talks.

For months, Mr Orban has vocalised his opposition to Ukraine being allowed to join the bloc.

The Hungarian prime minister last week described Ukraine as “one of the most corrupt countries in the world”, while his aides argue Kyiv has failed to deliver any of the reforms recommended by the EU in order to start the negotiations.

Talks between European leaders ongoing

But sources close to both the Hungarian and Ukrainian leaders said Mr Orban acknowledged discussions were still ongoing between European leaders ahead of Thursday and Friday’s summit in Brussels.

Bertalan Havasi, Mr Orban’s press chief, confirmed the apparently spontaneous meeting but did not say if Mr Zelensky had succeeded in changing the Hungarian prime minister’s position.

“With regards to Ukraine’s EU accession, Viktor Orban signalled that the member states of the European Union were continuously discussing the issue,” said Mr Havasi.

In recent days, Mr Orban has held talks with France’s Emmanuel Macron, the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte, Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, and Charles Michel, the European Council’s president, as they sought to change his mind.

Instead, he is calling for a “strategic discussion” on the sustainability of the EU’s support for Ukraine, while Mr Orban promotes calls for a ceasefire and peace talks with Moscow.

Budapest has previously been mooted as a possible destination for negotiations between Mr Zelensky and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mr Zelensky was a star guest of Mr Milei at his inauguration over the weekend and was given a menorah as a gift in tribute to his Jewish ancestry.

The Ukrainian leader is due to arrive in Washington on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to unlock billions of dollars in US funding for Kyiv’s war effort.