Orban returns empty-handed from Moscow, EU furious


By John

After Ukraine, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gets a firm no to a ceasefire from Russia too.

But what counts most are the reactions in the West to his visit to Moscow, which he himself defined as the second stage of a “peace mission” after Kiev. The EU accused him of “undermining European unity”claiming that it had been kept in the dark about the preparations, as had Ukraine. NATO, however, said it had been informed and expected to discuss it at its summit, scheduled for next week in Washington.

Orban, who arrived in Moscow late yesterday morning, spent two and a half hours with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. A long interview, therefore, unlike the joint meeting with journalists in Caterina’s hall, which lasted no more than a quarter of an hour and without questions. Putin immediately made it clear that he rejected the request for a ceasefire to facilitate negotiations, because Russia wants “a full and definitive conclusion to the conflict”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had done the same three days ago in Kiev, with the latter saying he wanted a “just peace”. Something that certainly cannot be guaranteed by the conditions reiterated by Putin, starting with the withdrawal of Kiev forces from the four regions partially occupied by Russian forces. “I realized that the positions are very distant from each other” and “many steps must be taken to get closer to the conclusion of the war”, Orban could only admit.

“However, we have taken a very important step, we have established contact and I will work further on this issue,” he promised.
The Kiev government, like the EU, clarified that Orban had not notified it of his intention to visit Moscow. “The decision to make this trip was taken by the Hungarian side without any agreement or coordination with Ukraine,” the Foreign Ministry said, reiterating the principle that there can be “no agreement on Ukraine without Ukraine.” The Kremlin confirmed that the Hungarian prime minister did not bring any message from Zelensky, and that it was he who asked to come and see Putin, only “two days ago.”

The EU was keen to stress that Orban, whose country holds the six-month presidency of the Union, had no mandate to talk to Putin. The message he sent to the Kremlin, said Commission spokesman Eric Mamer, “is one of pacification, not peace, and we believe that this undermines the unity and determination that we must demonstrate to end this war”. The prime minister himself, in an interview with Radio Kossuth before leaving Budapest, acknowledged that he had no European mandate. “I am simply visiting places where there is a war going on that can have an impact on Hungary and I ask questions”, he said. Hungary, he added, knows its place and that “the big countries” will decide. But the rift with Brussels this time is one that is difficult to mend. Virtually all the capitals have condemned the visit while Mamer has said that the traditional trip of the European Commission to the country holding the rotating presidency – and which had been scheduled for after the summer – is now “in doubt”. It may not be the only retaliation.

The only one that had been informed of the visit, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted, was NATO. And so presumably the United Stateswhich maintains contacts with Moscow, the latest of which was a telephone conversation on June 25 between Defense Ministers Lloyd Austin and Andrei Belousov. While stressing that Orban did not represent the Alliance in Moscow, Stoltenberg said that “there will be a way to discuss this trip” at the summit scheduled in Washington from July 9 to 11. “At the summit,” the secretary general continued, “we will increase our support for Ukraine in the long term. Kiev must prevail and needs our support.” A “review” of this aid is expected at next year’s summit. But no date for Kiev’s entry into NATO has been set, after Zelensky, in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper in recent days, accused the Biden administration of holding back for “fear of irritating Putin.”