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Orban Defends Meeting Putin at EU Summit Despite Criticism

In a bold move that has stirred controversy, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban staunchly defended his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an EU summit. Orban not only justified the encounter but also criticized most of his fellow EU leaders for their differing stance.

Orban positioned himself as the sole advocate for peace in Ukraine, despite his divisive approach to Russia. This stance seems to have found support within the EU, with new Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico also expressing a willingness to obstruct EU aid to Ukraine, a decision requiring unanimous agreement among the 27 member nations.

However, Orban’s actions have met with resistance from many EU leaders. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda stated, “It’s really more than strange to see that we start to flirt with the regime who is committing very cruel atrocities,” and emphasized that such actions send a profoundly wrong message.

During the EU leaders’ fall summit in Brussels, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined via video link, urging the bloc to continue supporting Ukraine and to display unity in the face of Putin.

President Zelenskyy, without mentioning Orban, highlighted the importance of unity within the European Union, stating, “I thank everyone who is making every effort to preserve unity. Unity with Ukraine. Unity within the European Union.”

Orban remained unapologetic for his meeting with Putin, emphasizing the need to keep open lines of communication with Russia for the sake of peace. He stated, “We are the only ones who are speaking on behalf and in favor of the peace which would be in the interest of everybody in Europe,” contrasting with the EU’s official position of ostracizing Putin since the start of the Ukraine invasion in February 2022.

This unilateral approach has eroded the carefully crafted sense of EU unity, which, according to Nauseda, is especially critical in the current stage of the conflict. It not only weakens Brussels but also plays into Moscow’s hands, as noted by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who stated, “This plays into the Kremlin’s card; they want to see us divided.”

Orban’s stance received support from the new left-wing populist Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, who has also expressed favorable views towards Russia and skepticism about sanctions imposed on Moscow. Fico vowed during his election campaign to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine, contrary to EU policy and promises, a stance he did not retract during the summit.

Fico emphasized, “I won’t vote for any sanctions against Russia unless we have an analysis of their impact on Slovakia on the table,” citing the harm caused by previous sanctions to his nation.

Orban’s alignment with Fico is significant, as he is expected to lose his biggest ally in the EU, the nationalist government of Poland, following their recent election defeat. The opposition, led by former EU Council President Donald Tusk, now aims to shift Poland back to the center of EU policy-making, potentially undoing Orban’s existing political alliances.

For Ukraine, the stakes are high. Orban’s influence could affect crucial matters such as EU financial support, arms deliveries, and even Ukraine’s application for EU membership, a decision that requires unanimity among the bloc’s current members. So far, European diplomats report that Orban’s assertiveness in public rarely translates into intransigence behind closed doors. Since February 2022, the 27 EU member nations have largely maintained their unity, even if some sanctions packages faced delays due to additional demands from Orban.

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