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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - BRUSSELS: Russia congratulated Hungary on Friday for blocking EU financial aid to Ukraine at a Brussels summit that nonetheless saw EU leaders overcome Budapest’s opposition to agree Kyiv starting membership talks.
“Hungary, in contrast to many European countries, firmly defends its interests, which impresses us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vetoed the EU earmarking 50 billion euros ($54 billion) over four years for Ukraine, as the country battles Russia’s invading army.
However, on Thursday, when the EU leaders discussed opening accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, Orban agreed to leave the room so that his colleagues could approve the plan by consensus and not face a Hungarian veto.
Moscow slammed the move.
“This is absolutely a politicized decision — the EU’s desire to show support to these countries in this way. But certainly such new members can actually destabilize the EU,” Peskov said.
Peskov said Brussels was intent on pitting eastern European countries against Moscow.
“Everything is being done to annoy Russia and antagonize these countries toward Russia,” he said.
Hungary under Orban is Russia’s best friend in the EU, and Moscow sees the country as one of its only allies inside the bloc.
Orban, in an interview with Hungarian state radio, linked the planned EU money for Ukraine to tens of billions of euros that Brussels has frozen for Hungary because of democratic backsliding and corruption concerns.
“This is a great opportunity for Hungary to make it clear that it should get what it deserves,” Orban said. “We want to be treated fairly, and now there is a good chance that we can assert this.”
Faced with Orban’s intransigence, the other EU leaders agreed to revisit the matter in another summit early next year.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said the blocked discussion was “disappointing” but “there are workarounds” if Hungary continued to dig its heels in. The other 26 countries could stump up the Ukraine aid money anyway, on a bilateral basis, he said, though the preference was to make it an EU package.
“We’ll have to work on it over over the Christmas break and come back here sometime in January,” Varadkar said as he arrived for the second day of the summit.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said: “I see a possibility for a deal. Yes, it will take time, maybe several weeks will be needed.”
Kyiv is urgently trying to change the narrative that backing from its Western allies is waning as doubts swirl over support from the US.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who did not attend the knife-edge summit, called the membership talks decision “a victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens.”
The White House — which faces opposition from US Republicans to support for Ukraine — hailed the “historic decision.”
The agreement to open membership negotiations with Kyiv does not mean that Ukraine will be joining the EU any time soon.
Before the talks can be launched, EU states must agree on a negotiating framework — giving Orban ample opportunity to stall the process again.
In what some saw as a last-minute concession to coax Hungary, the European Commission agreed on Wednesday to unblock 10 billion euros of cash for Budapest that it has frozen. Another 21 billion euros remains out of Orban’s grasp.
Orban’s absence for the accession talks issue raised alarm bells for some EU leaders, worried such tactics could be replicated in future, thorny discussions, weakening bloc unity.
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