Hungary’s Orban Gives Ground on Ukraine’s EU Membership Bid But Blocks a Big Aid Package 

As Washington wrestles with more aid for Ukraine, the Hungarian leader throws a monkey wrench into Europe’s plans to bolster Kyiv as Russian invasion nears two-year mark.

Grigory Sysoyev, Sputnik, Kremlin pool via AP
President Putin, right, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary at Beijing, October 17, 2023. Grigory Sysoyev, Sputnik, Kremlin pool via AP

Hungary’s ever-contrarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, gave some ground at Brussels this week by not impeding the EU’s opening of accession talks with Ukraine but subsequently stomped on a financial aid package for Kyiv worth nearly $55 billion. 

Yet joining the bloc is a lengthy process that will eventually require unanimous approval, and in the short term what Ukraine needs more than priority parking at Brussels is more money. What Mr. Orban has just done will make that objective more difficult. 

The development comes as Ukraine is still struggling to find a better strategy to shake off the Russians and as Congressional contortions over a deal that will include Ukraine aid spill into next week.

European Union leaders had been locked in negotiations over the aid package until early Friday morning but called off the talks after Mr. Orban refused to greenlight funding that would  help support Ukraine’s government over the next four years. A last-ditch effort by leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands to sway the iconoclastic Hungarian fell flat.

That is despite the fact that Chancellor Scholz was instrumental in persuading Mr. Orban to literally leave the room when the decision on enlargement was taken on Thursday, thereby allowing the vote to proceed without him. That maneuver is referred to at Brussels as a “‘constructive abstention.”

Now, however, comes the hard part, and it will have to wait until next year. The European Council chief, Charles Michel, stated that a follow-up meeting is likely in late January and the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, told reporters that “We still have some time, Ukraine is not out of money in the next few weeks.”

But the rebuke from Budapest dealt a considerable blow to Kyiv and its backers only hours after they had celebrated the bloc’s taking the symbolic step of agreeing to open membership talks. Kyiv is urgently trying to change the narrative that backing from its Western allies is waning as doubts swirl over financial and military support from Washington. 

After talks broke up, Mr. Orban took to social media to proclaim victory. “Summary of the nightshift: veto for the extra money to Ukraine,” he stated on X,  saying he vetoed injecting new money into the EU’s seven-year budget, which has dried up largely because of the Covid pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Critics have accused the Hungarian leader of holding Kyiv’s survival hostage to force Brussels to release billions of EU funds to Hungary that have been frozen over a rule of law dispute. In what some saw as a last-minute concession, the European Commission agreed on Wednesday to unblock nearly $11 billion of that cash. 

Another $23 billion still remains out of Mr. Orban’s grasp, but he denied that Hungary was linking the cash and its Ukraine stance. “That’s not our style,” he stated.

Beyond Mr. Orban, other EU leaders stressed the need for unity and to send a strong signal of support for Ukraine, which has already seen Washington’s support threatened by maneuvers in Congress to agree to a $60 billion aid package the White House seeks.

The uncertainty has raised fears of weakening Western resolve to sustain the country as it battles Russia. By Friday the EU bloc had agreed to a 12th round of sanctions on Moscow, targeting Russia’s lucrative diamond exports and aiming to tighten an oil price cap that has been  laxly enforced. 

It is unclear to what extent the Biden administration is tracking development at Brussels, but a certain Ukraine fatigue in Europe mirrors that in America. As the year lurches to a finish, nearly half of Americans think President Biden is spending too much on Ukraine aid, a new survey finds. 

Senator Vance has called for Ukraine to cede territory to “bring this war to a close.” He is not the first high-profile person to evoke territorial concessions, but the growing chorus has got to be music to Vladimir Putin’s ears.

The New York Sun

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