Hungary’s Orban urges Russia-Ukraine ceasefire on surprise visit to Kyiv

President Zelenskyy stresses that Kyiv needs a ‘just peace’ after more than two years of fighting Russia’s invasion.

In this handout photograph taken and released on July 2, 2024, by the Hungarian Prime Minister's Press office, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) poses with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban ahead of their meeting at the Presidential palace in Kyiv, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by ZOLTAN FISCHER / Hungarian Prime Minister's press office / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /AFP PHOTO /ZOLTAN FISCHER/HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, appears with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban before their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Kyiv on July 2, 2024 [Zoltan Fischer/Hungarian prime minister's press office/AFP]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called for a ceasefire in Ukraine during a rare trip to the war-torn country.

In a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday, Orban, a fiery critic of Western military aid to Ukraine, suggested a speedy ceasefire could expedite peace talks.

Orban also said Hungary wanted to improve its ties with Ukraine and offered to help modernise its economy, in an apparent olive-branch to its long-estranged neighbour.

Zelenskyy, speaking alongside Orban at a news briefing, said he “appreciates” the Hungarian leader’s visit, the first in more than a decade, but stressed that Ukraine needs a “just peace” after more than two years of fighting Russia’s invasion.

Orban said he would report on his talks with Zelenskyy to European Union prime ministers “so that the necessary European decisions can be taken”.

Icy relations

Orban’s visit came as Hungary assumes the rotating presidency of the EU, a role that has drawn concern from the rest of the bloc and Ukraine due to Budapest’s relatively warm ties with Moscow.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ahead of the European Council Summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 27, 2024. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)
Orban, left, talks with Zelenskyy before a European Council summit at EU headquarters in Brussels on June 27, 2024 [Ludovic Marin/AFP]

Hungary has repeatedly blocked or delayed EU plans to help Ukraine and sanction Russia.

Hungary has also angered Ukraine by criticising the EU opening formal membership talks with Kyiv – although Budapest ended up abstaining rather than vetoing the move.

Hungary, for its part, has accused Ukraine of curbing the rights of roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in its far west, charges Kyiv denies while saying it will do what it can to address Budapest’s concerns.

Over the past year, Zelenskyy has been filmed holding several tense-looking conversations with Orban at international forums, most recently at a European Council meeting in Brussels last week.

Zelenskyy recently said he’s drawing up a “comprehensive plan” for how Kyiv believes the war with Russia, now dragging into its third year, should end.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies