Ukraine sounds alarm as Hungary threatens EU support




BRUSSELS: Ukraine Monday warned its European ambitions are at risk as EU leaders struggle to agree on renewing financial support for Kyiv and extending an invitation to start formal membership talks.
Leaders of the 27 European Union members meet Thursday to decide the fate of a promised 50 billion-euro ($54 billion) aid package, additional funds for weapons shipments, and opening Ukraine’s path to join the bloc.
But key EU issues require unanimity, and Hungary‘s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to block any new support for Ukraine, 21 months after the Russian invasion.
With US backing for Ukraine also under threat from Republicans in Congress, the Ukrainian government is terrified about faltering support from the country’s other main ally.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on Monday he “cannot imagine” the fallout if EU leaders snub Kyiv’s hope of membership talks.
“I don’t even want to talk about the devastating consequences that will occur shall the Council fail to make this decision,” he said when he arrived in Brussels on Monday to help prepare the European Council summit.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has long stressed how vital it is that European capitals decide this year to start formal EU membership negotiations with his country.
Hungary aside, Ukraine enjoys broad support in EU capitals, both in its campaign to defeat Russia’s all-out invasion — launched in February last year — and in its quest to join the bloc.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that the war would likely “drag on for a long time”.
“That is why it is important to formulate a long-term perspective that we are prepared to support Ukraine for as long as it is necessary and to the extent it is necessary,” said Scholz, speaking alongside his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Scholz said, was “hoping the readiness in our countries to do what is necessary and to formulate the necessary support diminishes.”
“It would be a very important message to tell him: don’t count on it.”
But Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto denounced what he said was “the extraordinary pressure exerted at the political and media levels” to push Hungary to accept Ukraine’s EU candidacy.
“This is unacceptable,” he said, insisting Kyiv does not meet the criteria to begin accession talks.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recommended last month that both Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova be allowed to begin formal membership talks.
But Hungary’s Orban, who is both close to Moscow and in dispute with Brussels over frozen EU funds for his country, could veto funding for Kyiv and membership talks.
Last week, Orban wrote to the summit host, the president of the European Council Charles Michel, to demand that accession talks with Ukraine be taken off the summit agenda entirely because of what he called an “obvious lack of consensus.”
Having earlier demanded a “strategic discussion” on whether to continue backing Ukraine’s defence, he now warned that all manner of EU business could be disrupted by the award.
– ‘Very deplorable’ –
Brussels has not struck the membership issue from the summit agenda, with intense diplomacy under way to head off a crisis.
Thursday last week, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Orban at a dinner in Paris to sound him out about backing Europe’s support for Ukraine.
Zelensky was caught on video in Buenos Aires at the weekend in an apparently tense conversation with Orban on the sidelines of the inauguration of President Javier Milei.
And on Monday, EU foreign ministers and officials arriving in Brussels for talks to prepare the summit piled pressure on the Hungarian strongman.
Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen called Hungary’s position “very, very deplorable”.
“It is crucial that we keep on aiding Ukraine for as long as it’s needed. And it’s not only for the cause of Ukraine but also for our own cause,” she said.
European diplomats believe Orban is stalling to pressure Brussels to release billions of euros of EU support to Budapest that was frozen over a dispute about the rule of law in Hungary.
Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Hungary’s position appeared to show Budapest was “against Europe and everything that Europe stands for”.
“It’s a clash of ideologies of those who want Europe to be strong and those who don’t want Europe — the European Union — at all.”


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