Hungary's Orbán says he won't hesitate to slam the brakes on Ukraine's EU membership

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. European Union leaders, in a two-day summit will discuss the latest developments in Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and continued EU support for Ukraine and its people. (AP Photo/Omar Havana) (Omar Havana, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BUDAPEST – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Friday his country will have plenty of opportunities in the future to interrupt Ukraine's process of joining the European Union, a day after the right-wing leader's stunning turnaround allowed an EU summit to move forward on bringing the war-torn country into the bloc.

Orbán had spent weeks vigorously declaring that his country would not consent to the EU beginning talks with Ukraine on its eventual membership, arguing such a decision would be catastrophic and that Kyiv was unprepared to begin the process.

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But in a dramatic reversal in Brussels on Thursday, Orbán left the room where the leaders of the EU's 27 member nations were debating the measure and allowed a unanimous vote of 26 to approve the start of accession talks for Kyiv.

In an interview Friday with Hungarian state radio, Orbán said that EU leaders told him he would “lose nothing” by dropping his veto since he’d have chances in the future to block Ukraine's accession if he chose to — something he vowed to do if it appeared Hungary's interests were at risk.

“Their decisive argument was that Hungary loses nothing, given that the final word on Ukraine’s membership has to be given by the national parliaments, 27 parliaments, including the Hungarian one,” Orbán said.

“I made it clear that we will not hesitate for a moment if the financial and economic consequences of this bad decision will be paid by the Hungarians. Those who made this decision should be the ones who pay,” he said. “If necessary, we will slam the brakes.”

The decision by EU leaders to move forward on Ukraine's membership — a process that could take many years — was met with jubilation in Kyiv, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcoming the agreement as “a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe.”

But the results of Thursday's summit were mixed as Orbán blocked a 50-billion-euro ($54-billion) package of financial aid that Ukraine desperately needs to stay afloat, a major blow to Zelenskyy after he failed this week to persuade U.S. lawmakers to approve an additional $61 billion for his war effort.

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said EU leaders would reconvene in January in an effort to break the deadlock.

It was not the first time Orbán had derailed EU plans to provide funding to Ukraine. The nationalist leader is widely considered to be Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest ally in the EU, and has been accused by his critics of promoting Moscow's interests over those of his EU and NATO allies.

Orbán has advocated for an immediate end to the fighting and pushed for peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv, though he has not detailed what such a step would entail for Ukraine's territorial integrity.

On Friday, Orbán accused his EU partners of seeking to prolong the war, and said providing more money for Kyiv was “an immediate violation of (Hungary's) interests.”

“The situation in Ukraine is bad, so no more money should be sent to the war," he said. "The war should be stopped and there should be a cease-fire and peace talks. Instead, now they want to give money to keep the war going.”

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