Hungary’s Orbán arrives in Moscow for talks with Putin, rare visit by European leader

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban has arrived in Moscow for talks with the Russian President Vladimir PutinOrbán’s press secretary said Friday. It is a rare visit by a European leader to Russia since the country invaded Ukraine more than two years ago.

Orban’s visit comes just days after he made a similar unannounced trip to Ukraine, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and proposed that Ukraine agree to an immediate ceasefire with Russia.

The Hungarian Prime Minister, who is widely regarded as having the warmest relations with Vladimir Putin among all leaders of the European Unionhas routinely blocked, delayed or weakened EU efforts to help Ukraine and impose sanctions on Moscow over the war. He has long called for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, but without outlining what that might mean for the country’s territorial integrity or future security.

This stance is frustrating to Hungary’s EU and NATO allies, who generally view the Russian invasion as a violation of international law and a threat to the security of Eastern European countries.

In an email Friday, Orbán’s press secretary, Bertalan Havasi, said the Hungarian leader’s trip comes “as part of his peace mission” — reflecting the peacemaker image the populist leader has cultivated since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also joined the trip to Moscow, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Hungary took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council earlier this month, 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 push for an end to fighting in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to a Russian state television reporter on Friday that Ukraine will be among the topics on the agenda when Orbán and Putin meet.

EU officials have slammed Orbán for his visit to Putin, something only one other European leader has done since the invasion began.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer visited Moscow in April 2022, a few weeks after the invasion, and said he had raised the issue of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

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

“Prime Minister Orbán has not received a mandate from the EU Council to visit Moscow. The EU position on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is reflected in many conclusions of the European Council. That position excludes official contacts between the EU and President Putin. So the Hungarian Prime Minister does not represent the EU in any way,” Borrell said.

He added that Putin has been indicted by the International Criminal Court and an arrest warrant has been issued for his role in the forcible deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.

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

Without mentioning reports of his planned trip to Moscow, he said his trip to Kiev earlier this week “did not require a mandate, because I do not represent anything. All I do is go to those places where there is war or the threat of war that has negative consequences for Europe and Hungary.”

Other EU officials have expressed dismay that Orbán undertook the trip unilaterally and without the approval of the bloc’s member states.

Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said in a statement that there was “no justification” for the visit, and that the Hungarian leader “does not represent the European Union and does not have the approval of EU member states, including Estonia.”

European Council President Charles Michel said on social media platform X on Thursday that “the rotating EU presidency has no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU.”

“The European Council is clear: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine is the victim. There can be no discussions on Ukraine without Ukraine,” Michel wrote.


Litvinova reported from Tallinn, Estonia.

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