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Hungary blocks EU’s financial aid to Ukraine; Russia congratulates PM Viktor Orban



Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban © Bernadett Szabo, Reuters


Russia congratulated Hungary on Friday for blocking EU financial aid to Ukraine at a Brussels summit that nonetheless saw EU leaders overcome Budapest’s opposition to agree to Kyiv starting membership talks.

“Hungary, in contrast to many European countries, firmly defends its interests, which impresses us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vetoed the European Union earmarking 50 billion euros ($54 billion) over four years for Ukraine, as the country battles Russia’s invading army.

However, on Thursday, when the EU leaders discussed opening accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, Orban agreed to leave the room so that his colleagues could approve the plan by consensus and not face a Hungarian veto.

Moscow slammed the move.

“This is absolutely a politicized decision — the EU’s desire to show support to these countries in this way. But certainly, such new members can destabilize the EU,” Peskov said.

Peskov said Brussels was intent on pitting eastern European countries against Moscow.

“Everything is being done to annoy Russia and antagonize these countries towards Russia,” he said.

Hungary under Orban is Russia’s best friend in the EU, and Moscow sees the country as one of its only allies inside the bloc.

Orban, in an interview with Hungarian state radio, linked the planned EU money for Ukraine to tens of billions of euros that Brussels has frozen for Hungary because of democratic backsliding and corruption concerns.

“This is a great opportunity for Hungary to make it clear that it should get what it deserves,” Orban said. “We want to be treated fairly, and now there is a good chance that we can assert this.”

– ‘Workarounds’ –
Faced with Orban’s intransigence, the other EU leaders agreed to revisit the matter in another summit early next year.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said the blocked discussion was “disappointing” but “there are workarounds” if Hungary continued to dig its heels in.

The other 26 countries could stump up the Ukraine aid money anyway, on a bilateral basis, he said, though the preference was to make it an EU package.

“We’ll have to work on it over the Christmas break and come back here sometime in January,” Varadkar said as he arrived for the second day of the summit.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said: “I see a possibility for a deal. Yes, it will take time, maybe several weeks will be needed.”

Kyiv is urgently trying to change the narrative that backing from its Western allies is waning as doubts swirl over support from the United States.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who did not attend the knife-edge summit, called the membership talks decision “a victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens”.

The White House — which faces opposition from US Republicans to support for Ukraine — hailed the “historic decision”.

– EU unity tested –
The agreement to open membership negotiations with Kyiv does not mean that Ukraine will be joining the EU any time soon.

Before the talks can be launched, EU states must agree on a negotiating framework — giving Orban ample opportunity to stall the process again.

In what some saw as a last-minute concession to coax Hungary, the European Commission agreed on Wednesday to unblock 10 billion euros of cash for Budapest that it has frozen. Another 21 billion euros remains out of Orban’s grasp.

Orban’s absence from the accession talks issue raised alarm bells for some EU leaders, worried such tactics could be replicated in future, thorny discussions, weakening bloc unity.

“I think a negative precedent is being set,” said Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides.

That unity was to be tested further on Friday, with the leaders trying to overcome divisions to formulate a common position over Israel’s offensive in Gaza to destroy Hamas.

EU countries are divided between those backing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza — supported by the overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly — and those supporting the stance of Israel and the United States that a ceasefire would bind Israel’s hands as it tries to destroy Hamas.

“You can pursue terrorists without engaging in the kind of war and destruction that Israel is engaging in at the moment in Gaza,” argued Ireland’s Varadkar.

“I’m not sure we can get agreement on the use of the word ceasefire, but I do think we’ll see the European Union’s position move on considerably” from the wording in its last summit in October when it backed Israeli action within the limits of international humanitarian law, he said.

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