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Orban's Kyiv, Moscow trips test boundaries of EU presidency, expert says

by Martin Fornusek July 5, 2024 11:16 AM 3 min read
Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister (R), and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine's president, at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 2, 2024. (Andrew Kravchenko/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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Editor's note: The article was updated after Viktor Orban's office confirmed the arrival in Moscow.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's trip to Kyiv and plans to visit Moscow show that Budapest will take a "creative" approach toward its presidency of the Council of the EU, an expert told the Kyiv Independent on July 5.

The presidency's role is primarily as a mediator among key EU institutions, but Orban's steps show that he is "playing a different game and using the vacuum while the compositions of these institutions are changing" after the European elections, said Pavel Havlicek, a research fellow at the Association for International Affairs.

"This is something that goes beyond the usual limits of the presidency, showing that they (Hungary) will approach it in a 'creative' way," Havlicek said, adding that this is not a "positive" development.

Shortly after Hungary took over the rotating presidency on July 1, Orban visited Kyiv for the first time since the start of the full-scale war. During his talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky, he urged him to consider a ceasefire as a step toward peace, which the latter refused.

Soon after, media reports emerged that the Hungarian prime minister plans to visit Moscow as well, drawing criticism from his European partners. Orban's office confirmed the arrival to Russia's capital later on July 5.

According to Havlicek, the ending mandates of the current EU leaders and the ongoing talks on the composition of the European Commission make it uncertain who is meant to represent the bloc externally.

"The EU rotating 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," European Council President Charles Michel said on X.

Orban acknowledged that the presidency does not give him a mandate to negotiate peace between Ukraine and Russia but that Hungary can be "a good tool in the hands of people who want peace."

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrived in Kyiv on July 2, in what became his first visit to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. The visit came two days into Hungary’s rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers. The

Hungary has maintained close relations with Moscow throughout the full-scale war, obstructed sanctions against Russia, and criticized military aid to Kyiv, alleging that it merely "prolongs" and "escalates" the war.

Even though the Belgian presidency managed to finalize many steps before handing over the baton to Hungary – such as the 14th sanctions package against Russia or opening accession talks with Ukraine – the Hungarian presidency can still have a significant impact, Havlicek believes.

As the expert points out, Hungary's peace outreaches come at the time when the U.S. heads toward the presidential election, and Orban's "Make Europe Great Again" motto can be seen as a positive gesture toward Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Trump has vowed to end the war within 24 hours if elected, without elaborating on how to achieve that result. Multiple media reports claimed that these plans could include pressing Ukraine to cede territory to Russia.

"Trump's plans regarding Ukraine remain uncertain, but he may find an ally in Orban, who will support his steps and push them forward on the European level," Havlicek said.

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