Viktor Orbán arrived in Moscow on Friday (5) to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, defying European leaders who warned the Hungarian Prime Minister that he did not represent them.

Orbán, whose country took over the rotating EU presidency on Monday, arrived in Russia just days after a surprise visit to Kiev — his first since Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 in an apparent effort to broker peace between the two sides.

“As part of his peacekeeping mission, Viktor Orban has arrived in Moscow,” his spokesman told state news agency MTI. “The prime minister is meeting with Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.”

The visit is the first by an EU leader to Russia since Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer visited Moscow in April 2022 in a failed attempt to persuade Putin to end the war.

But on his way to Moscow, Orban acknowledged he was not representing the EU, after several leaders on Thursday warned he had no mandate to speak on its behalf. “Hungary has no mandate to negotiate on behalf of the European Union. I would never pretend. But I can exploit the situation,” he told state media on Friday, adding that he would inform the bloc’s leaders if there was an opening for peace talks, which he admitted were still “a long way off”.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Friday that Orbán’s visit to Moscow was “exclusively” bilateral, as the Hungarian leader “did not receive any mandate… to visit Moscow” and was “not representing the EU in any way”.

European Council President Charles Michel criticized Orbán on Thursday, saying in a post on X that the rotating EU presidency had no legitimacy to speak for the bloc. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk expressed disbelief: “The rumors about his visit to Moscow can’t be true… or can they?”

An EU diplomat told the Financial Times that “with such a meeting, the Hungarian presidency ends before it really begins” and that “the scepticism of EU member states was unfortunately justified – it is all about advancing Budapest’s interests”.

Despite his recent rapprochement with Kiev, which included three hours of talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Orbán has consistently taken a pro-Russian stance since 2022, delaying EU sanctions on Moscow and opposing aid to Kiev.

Orbán was also the first Western leader to meet Putin at a conference in China last October after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for war crimes allegedly perpetrated by the Russian leader.

Putin defended Orban from widespread Western criticism after that meeting. “They are attacking him not because he has a different position from other European leaders, but because he has the courage to defend the interests of his people,” Putin said. “Many politicians in Europe today do not have this courage and envy him.”

Daniel Hegedűs, a political analyst at the German Marshall Fund, a think-tank, said these early days already showed what the EU can expect from Hungary’s six-month presidency: “disruption, instability and trolling”.

“The visit to Moscow is being framed as an effort by Orbán to mediate Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, but no one sees the effort as sincere or legitimate,” Hegedűs said. “Orbán can use and abuse the rotating EU presidency to sow confusion and cause significant symbolic damage to EU foreign policy while advancing the interests of Russia and the West’s other illiberal rivals.”

Via Financial Times


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