EU Warns Hungary’s Orban Against Plan to Visit Russia

(Bloomberg) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday he is on a “fact-finding” mission and not negotiating on behalf of the European Union about the war in Ukraine, even as the bloc warned him not to visit Moscow.

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Orban didn’t directly confirm that he is planning a trip on Friday, but Russia is preparing for a visit by the Hungarian leader, according to a person familiar with the matter.

European Council President Charles Michel cautioned Orban late Thursday that he can’t negotiate with Russia in his capacity as the holder of the EU’s rotating presidency. This came after several reports said the premier will stop in Russia on his way to Azerbaijan, where he will participate in a meeting of Turkic states.

“The EU rotating presidency has no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU,” Michel said in a post on X. He issued the public message after failing to reach Hungarian officials or confirm the trip, according to another person familiar with the matter.

Michel would have advised Orban against visiting Moscow had he been asked, added the second person, who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

In a radio address on Friday, Orban said he isn’t representing the EU in his international talks about Ukraine, and the conversations cannot be regarded as formal negotiations. Instead, he wants to explore the “red lines” of the two sides in the conflict, Orban said.

EU diplomats have been concerned that Orban, who has already met Russian President Vladimir Putin since his invasion of Ukraine, would use his country’s EU presidency to undermine the bloc’s efforts to punish and isolate Moscow.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo echoed Michel’s warning, saying in a post on X that such a trip “would show disregard for the duties of the EU Presidency and undermines interests of the European Union.”

The Hungarian leader pitched a cease-fire to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday during his first visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia launched its full scale invasion in 2022. In an interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday, Zelenskiy rejected the idea on grounds that it would only serve Russia without guaranteeing Ukraine’s security.

Hungary assumed its six-month presidency of the EU on Monday, creating an opportunity for Orban to elevate his diplomatic profile.

The Orban trip was first reported by Szabolcs Panyi, an investigative journalist with the VSquare group.

Spokespeople for the Kremlin and the Hungarian government didn’t reply to a request for comment on an Orban visit.

(Updates with Orban comments in first and sixth paragraphs. An earlier version corrected a misspelling of the word Hungarian.)

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