Hungary's Orbán arrives in Moscow for talks with Putin


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán's press chief said Friday, a rare visit to Russia by a European leader since it invaded Ukraine more than two years ago.

Orbán's visit comes only days after he made a similar unannounced trip to Ukraine, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and proposed that Ukraine consider agreeing to an immediate cease-fire with Russia.

The Hungarian prime minister, widely seen as having the warmest relations with Vladimir Putin among all European Union leaders, has routinely blocked, delayed or watered down EU efforts to assist Ukraine and impose sanctions on Moscow for its war. He has long argued for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine but without outlining what that might mean for the country's territorial integrity or future security.

That posture has frustrated Hungary's EU and NATO allies, which have broadly considered Russia's invasion as a breach of international law and a threat to the security of countries in Eastern Europe.

In an email on Friday, Orbán's press chief, Bertalan Havasi, said the Hungarian leader's trip comes "as part of his peace mission" — reflecting the image of a peacemaker that the populist leader has cultivated since Russia began 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 at the beginning of the month took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council, 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 advocate for an end to the fighting in Ukraine.

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

EU officials have come down hard on Orbán for his visit with Putin, something only one other European leader has done since the start of the invasion.

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

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a statement that Orbán's visit to Moscow "takes place, exclusively, in the framework of the bilateral relations between Hungary and Russia."

"Prime Minister Orbán has not received any mandate from the EU Council to visit Moscow. The EU position on Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine is reflected in many European Council conclusions. That position excludes official contacts between the EU and President Putin. The Hungarian Prime Minister is thus not representing the EU in any form," Borrell said.

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

Speaking to Hungarian state radio before departing Friday morning, Orbán said he was aware that his country's presidency of the EU "does not entitle us to negotiate on behalf of anyone."

Without mentioning reports of his planned trip to Moscow, he said his trip earlier this week to Kyiv did not "need a mandate, because I do not represent anything. The only thing I do is go to those places where there is a war or the threat of war that has negative consequences for Europe and Hungary as well."

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 is no justification" for the visit, and the Hungarian leader "is not representing the European Union and he does not have the approval of EU member states, including Estonia."

European Council President Charles Michel on Thursday said on the social media platform X that "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. No discussions about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine," Michel wrote.

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