Written by 02:25 World

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary Visits Ukraine

He stood alone for months in blocking a European aid package for Ukraine worth $52 billion but then meekly folded. He refused to accept Sweden as a new member of NATO for more than a year before eventually bowing to pressure from bigger countries and giving his unconditional assent.

The same pattern repeated itself on Tuesday when Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary made a surprise visit to Kyiv to meet the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, taking a path well trodden for more than two years by other European leaders but previously shunned by Mr. Orban.

Hungarian officials explained the previously unannounced trip as an effort to promote “peace” — Hungary’s euphemism for a settlement built on Ukrainian capitulation to Russian demands. Many observers saw it instead more as a move by Mr. Orban to try to end his isolation over Ukraine on the European stage.

Zsomber Zeold, a former Hungarian diplomat and foreign policy expert in Budapest, said the visit had “come as a complete surprise to me and many others” given that Mr. Orban has staked out such a hostile position toward Ukraine for so long. “The most plausible explanation,” Mr. Zeold said, is that “he wants to build up some kind of credibility within the European Union as not just a one-sided, pro-Russian actor.”

Hungary this week took over the rotating presidency of the European Union promising to “make Europe great again.” But the presidency is largely a clerical position, and Mr. Orban’s oft-repeated vow to “take over Brussels” has rested instead on a calculation that elections last month for the European Parliament would make Hungary’s governing Fidesz party a powerful new center of gravity for like-minded nationalist forces in the continental body.

That hope, however, has so far been hobbled by Mr. Orban’s reputation as the European bloc’s most Kremlin-friendly leader — a position with which only a few marginal figures want to be associated.

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Last modified: 4 July 2024
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