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High-Stakes EU Summit For Ukraine Faces Hungarian Hurdles

Zelensky’s recent visit to Washington failed to secure $61 billion in US military funding, blocked by Republican lawmakers.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban holds an international news conference in Budapest, Hungary, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas

The fate of Ukraine’s bid to start formal negotiations for EU membership hangs in the balance as EU leaders convene in Brussels, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s resistance posing a significant challenge. President Volodymyr Zelensky seeks support not only for Ukraine’s EU aspirations but also for essential aid to bolster the country’s economy and military capabilities.

Orban, a vocal opponent of Ukraine’s EU accession, cited concerns over war, corruption, a large agricultural sector, and alleged mistreatment of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. His opposition threatens to thwart Ukraine’s symbolic invitation to initiate formal negotiations, along with a proposed €54 billion in EU funds for Ukraine’s economy and an additional €24 billion in military support.

Zelensky’s recent visit to Washington failed to secure $61 billion in US military funding, blocked by Republican lawmakers, adding to the urgency of obtaining EU support. The Ukrainian leader explicitly accused Budapest of standing in the way, warning that a lack of positive outcomes in Brussels would be akin to a “Putin veto.”

As EU leaders arrived in Brussels, a potential compromise emerged, with the EU Commission unblocking about €10.2 billion of frozen EU funds for Hungary. While viewed as an attempt to soften Orban’s stance, EU officials deny any coercion, pointing to Hungary’s recent legislative changes aligning with EU demands.

Despite Hungary’s objections, most other EU capitals express strong support for Ukraine. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, even after halting military aid, pledged to back talks on Ukraine’s EU membership. The challenges in securing support underscore the complexities of navigating EU politics and the potential for a stalemate.

Zelensky, emphasising Ukraine’s constructive efforts, faces high stakes at the EU summit. The European Commission suggests that six of the seven preconditions for starting formal accession talks have been met, although Budapest disputes this, accusing Brussels of lowering the bar for Kyiv.

In a bid to assuage Hungarian concerns, Ukraine passed legislation guaranteeing minority rights and enacted a new anti-corruption law, meeting EU requirements. The summit’s outcome holds immense significance for Zelensky, grappling with the war with Russia, while Orban seeks increased influence within the EU. The potential for Ukraine to return with an invitation for accession talks and substantial aid hinges on navigating the intricate dynamics of the EU summit.

Kiki Garba

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