Viktor Orbán's surprise visit to Moscow sparks dismay and anger in Brussels

Viktor Orbán's surprise visit to Moscow sparks dismay and anger in Brussels

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Moscow on Friday for a rare meeting with a European leader, drawing the ire of Brussels for Orbán's unscheduled trip.

It follows a surprise meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Monday, where the two were said to have had a relatively cordial meeting despite Orban's flat refusal to provide political or military support for war-torn Ukraine.

As soon as reports of the Moscow trip emerged, President of the European Council Charles Michel hit out at Orbán, reminding him he has "no mandate" to negotiate on behalf of the EU during his tenure.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk tweeted, "The rumours about your visit to Moscow cannot be true PM Orbán, or can they?"

His Finnish counterpart Petteri Orpo described the news of the visit as "disturbing," saying Orbán’s visit shows "disregard" for the duties of the presidency and "undermines" the interests of the European Union.

Josep Borrell, the EU's top diplomat, stressed in a statement issued on Friday that the visit "takes place, exclusively, in the framework of the bilateral relations between Hungary in Russia."

Like Michel, he highlighted that holding the presidency of the Council of the EU "does not entail any external representation", adding that Orban has "not received any mandate" to visit Moscow and that the bloc's official position "excludes official contacts between the EU and President Putin."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Kyiv, July 2, 2024
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Kyiv, July 2, 2024 - AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

"The Hungarian Prime Minister is thus not representing the EU in any form," Borrell wrote, also recalling 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."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meanwhile stressed that "the European Council is represented in foreign policy by Charles Michel."

"The EU's position is very clear: we condemn the Russian war of aggression. Ukraine can count on our support"

Gitanas Nausėda, Lithuania's president, also condemned the trip, writing on X that "if you truly seek peace, you don't shake hands with a bloody dictator, you put all your efforts to support Ukraine".

'The only ones in Europe that can speak to everyone'

The trip came only days into Hungary taking over the rotating presidency of the European Council. Orbán has pitched the Kremlin visit as a peacemaking effort.

“The number of countries that can talk to both warring sides is diminishing,” Orbán said. “Hungary is slowly becoming the only country in Europe that can speak to everyone.”

In comments at the beginning of their meeting that were televised, Putin suggested that Orbán had come to Moscow as a representative of the European Council, despite Brussels' earlier distancing.

The trip has overshadowed Hungary's attempts to publicise the government's priorities over the next six months, including a more hardline implementation of migration policies, development of the European defence strategy, and support for a smooth transition to a new College of Commissioners following the European Parliament elections.

Meanwhile, Hungarian officials have told Euronews the government's policy in Ukraine is that "both parties" need to negotiate an end to the conflict and that there was 'no military solution'.

However, one official conceded that "against our best intentions towards the war, it will last a while."

"We condemn the aggression; we feel very strongly for Ukraine", they said, "but the two sides need to resolve the matter."

Officials also doubled down on Hungary's refusal to provide any lethal military equipment to Kyiv despite the heavy civilian casualties and brutal Russian occupation.

"We do not deliver lethal equipment; our job [in government] is to provide the security of Hungary and no other country."

"Our role in this is to protect the sovereignty of our own country; this is what we’re responsible for", they said.

The article has been updated to include further statements from EU officials.