Orban Pushes Cease-Fire Plan in Kyiv Talks With Zelenskiy

(Bloomberg) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to consider a cease-fire during his first visit to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion, putting on display the deep differences between the two leaders.

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While Orban’s comments reflect his long-standing call for a peace settlement, Zelenskiy has repeatedly dismissed demands for a cease-fire with Moscow, insisting that Russian forces withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

Still, Orban’s presence alone was a reconciliation of sorts between Ukraine’s wartime leader and the Hungarian premier, who has maintained ties with the Kremlin and at times stalled aid. The two could be seen having an apparently heated exchange at a summit in Brussels last week.

“We focused on the period ahead,” Orban, who arrived as he takes over the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency, said. “We would like to see a much better relationship between the two countries.”

Zelenskiy and Orban didn’t take questions from reporters after delivering their statements. The president spoke first and didn’t respond to Orban’s plea to “speed up peace talks with a quick cease-fire.”

Zelenskiy earlier noted Orban’s participation in a Swiss-hosted summit last month aimed at advancing Kyiv’s demands — and thanked him for taking up the Ukrainian issue during the EU presidency.

“This is a clear signal of our common priorities, of how important it is to return a just peace to Ukraine and all of Europe,” Zelenskiy said.

Russian Call

It was a steady exchange with Orban, who has acted as a disruptor among EU leaders since the invasion began in 2022, seeking to limit sanctions targeting Moscow.

Yet on the same day, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, with the ministers praising cooperation between their countries and agreeing that Kyiv should “unconditionally ensure the rights of all national minorities living in the country,” according to a readout from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia and Hungary hadn’t discussed Orban’s trip to Kyiv ahead of time, according to Russian news agency Tass.

The US ambassador in Budapest welcomed the talks between Orban and Zelenskiy.

The two have until now only met briefly at larger gatherings. Hungary’s state-backed media network has pushed messaging that echoes Kremlin disinformation campaigns, while portraying Orban as a harbinger of peace — most recently in the European parliamentary campaign.

Although Orban has eventually consented to the EU’s measures, Ukrainian forces have suffered from delays in deliveries.

Orban on Sunday announced the formation of a political group with nationalist forces in the EU, which are likely to support many of his views on Ukraine.

Zelenskiy last week signed an agreement for a long-term security commitment with the 27-member bloc as Western allies pledged to maintain support for Kyiv. The EU also formally opened negotiations with Ukraine over its membership in the bloc, a key symbolic step in a process that’s likely to take years to play out.

Hungary had been blocking that move as well, citing concerns including the protection of the Hungarian minorities in Ukraine, a longstanding demand that Brussels and Kyiv insist has been addressed.

--With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska and Marton Kasnyik.

(Adds phone call between Russian, Hungarian foreign ministers in 9th paragraph.)

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