Orban, a staunch Russian ally and EU agitator, visits Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the few European leaders who maintains warm ties with Moscow and has called on Kiev to give in to Russian demands to end the bloodshed, arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday morning for his first visit to the country since the war. his spokesman said.

Mr Orban, an outspoken critic of providing military and other financial aid to Ukraine who relishes his role as the odd man out in both the European Union and NATO, said in an interview with the Hungarian news media Monday evening that the visit would be the “first step” in promoting his vision to end the war.

That vision stands in stark contrast to the plan outlined by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose government has consistently said that Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory before peace talks can begin. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, however, has shown no signs of pulling back, leaving the two sides so far apart.

“He is trying to break out of the EU’s political no-man’s land, and a more open approach to Kiev would be key in this regard,” Edit Zgut-Przybylska, an assistant professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences who has written extensively on Russian influence in Hungary, said of Mr Orban.

Although Hungary recently took over the rotating presidency of the European Union, she said, he will not be able to “occupy Brussels” as he has promised, and will therefore have to find other tactics to exert his influence.

Despite Orban’s open embrace of Moscow — including a meeting with Putin in Beijing where he told the Russian leader that Hungary “never wanted to confront Russia” and “has always been eager to expand contacts” — Zelensky said it was important for the leaders of Ukraine and Hungary to hold formal talks.

“We need to organize a constructive meeting between our countries, because we have common borders, we are neighbors and we need to talk,” Mr Zelensky said. said in december after the two leaders had a short briefing, animated conversation in Argentina during the inauguration ceremony of that country’s newly elected president.

Mr Zelensky said the two had had a “frank” conversation and that he had pressed Mr Orban to express his opposition to Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union.

“I asked him to give me just one reason,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Not three, not five, not 10, just one reason, and I am waiting for an answer.”

Mr Orban told reporters after the meeting that he had accepted an invitation to visit Ukraine, but with a reservation.

“I told him I would be at his disposal,” Mr. Orban said. “We only have to answer one question: about what?”

That remained unclear as Orban’s procession headed to the Hungarian embassy on Tuesday, where he was expected to meet Mr Zelensky.

“The trip does not mean that the Hungarian government will make a U-turn in politics,” Professor Zgut-Przybylska said. “Orban has been playing this ‘peacock dance’ for a decade, and Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia will be stronger than ever.”

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