Viktor Orban, Putin’s greatest European ally, makes first trip to Kyiv since start of war

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made his first visit to Kyiv since Russia’s full-scale war began, and urged Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to consider a “ceasefire” in order to “speed up peace talks” with Moscow.

Standing alongside Zelensky on Tuesday, Orban, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has criticized European support for Ukraine, said: “I asked the president to think about whether we could reverse the order, and speed up peace talks, with making a ceasefire first.”

Orban continued: “A ceasefire connected to a deadline would give a chance to speed up peace talks. I explored this possibility with the president and I am grateful for his honest answers and negotiation.”

The Hungarian leader has touted the idea of ending the war with a ceasefire as opposed to military support for Ukraine numerous times since Russia’s military flooded across the border in 2022.

Zelensky dismissed the idea, according to his office.

Speaking on national TV on Monday, Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of Zelensky’s office, said that even though Orban “was given the opportunity to express his thoughts” during his visit to Kyiv, Zelensky’s position on this issue “is clear, understandable and known.”

Zelensky previously rejected French President Emmanuel Macron’s Olympic ceasefire proposal citing its potential to inadvertently benefit Russians on the ground.

According to Zhovkva, Kyiv’s number one tool to end hostilities is through a second peace summit, which Ukraine is already preparing for.

“We are saying that Ukraine will draft its peace plan, a roadmap for establishing peace in Ukraine. It will develop it with all the states that are ready. Hungary is also ready for this. And then, if the aggressor country is ready to listen to this plan, ready to talk about this plan, and not to speak the language of ultimatums, then yes, during the second summit, we can say that representatives of the Russian Federation may attend this summit in one way or another,” he said.

Orban also stated his desire to improve relations between Budapest and Kyiv, which have been strained by the Hungarian leader’s close relationship with Putin.

“We would like to make the relationship between the two countries better,” Orban said. “We would like to make a broad bilateral agreement with Ukraine, similar to the ones we already made with our neighbors (in the past). We would be happy to take part in the modernization of Ukraine’s economy, we would like an ordered framework for this.”

The authoritarian Hungarian leader has regularly attempted to block European Union initiatives offering further military and financial support to Kyiv during the conflict.

The Hungarian prime minister’s close relationship with Putin has frequently come under scrutiny. Their bond is underpinned by both economic cooperation and some shared values.

Both leaders have also enacted anti-LGBTQ policies and clamped down on freedom of speech in their countries. Hungary has supported Russia at a United Nations level and rejected EU sanctions following Putin’s aggression in Ukraine as early as 2014, after Russia illegally annexed Crimea.

Tuesday’s meeting comes as Orban and Hungary take control of the EU Council’s rotating presidency, which changes every six months. During each six-month period, the country controlling the presidency does not take control of the EU’s overall agenda, but does have a platform through which they can hammer home their own priorities.

On the EU Council’s website, it likens holding the presidency “to someone hosting a dinner, making sure their guests all gather in harmony,” adding that to “guarantee effectiveness, the presidency acts as an ‘honest broker,’ rising above the holder’s own national interest.”

Orban took control of the presidency on Monday with a call to “Make Europe Great Again,” a reference to Donald Trump’s political slogan that will alarm many of his European counterparts who are braced for the former US president’s potential return to the White House, concerned about what it will mean for the EU.

Other key European diplomatic meetings are planned for July. NATO will celebrate 75 years of the alliance in Washington, DC between July 9 and 11. The agenda for that event is expected to be dominated by long-term plans to support Ukraine and conversations about its eventual accession to the alliance.

Talks between the two leaders will focus on “possibilities for achieving peace, as well as current issues in Hungarian-Ukrainian bilateral relations,” a Hungarian government spokesperson said. - Zoltan Fischer/MTI/AP
Talks between the two leaders will focus on “possibilities for achieving peace, as well as current issues in Hungarian-Ukrainian bilateral relations,” a Hungarian government spokesperson said. - Zoltan Fischer/MTI/AP

The European Political Community (EPC), a forum for 47 European countries, inside and outside the EU, to discuss the continent’s strategic challenges, will also meet on July 18 in the United Kingdom. Ukraine and Hungary are both members of the EPC.

It is expected that Ukraine will dominate that agenda and Zelensky may attend the meeting in person. Orban may have had this in mind when timing this trip to Kyiv, ensuring that his first meeting with Ukraine’s president since the start of the war was not in such a public and high-stakes diplomatic setting.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Amy Cassidy and Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting.

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