Putin-Orbán Meeting – A Sign Of Faltering EU Unity On Its Support For Ukraine?
Just two days after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán shook hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin – in a rare move for the leader of a country that belongs to the EU and NATO – Czech President Petr Pavel said European leaders must not “fall” for the tactics of Putin.
On Tuesday, Orbán and Putin met in Beijing before an international forum on one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature policies, the Belt and Road Initiative. Their meeting focused on energy cooperation and peace, according to the Hungarian leader’s office.
Spokesperson For Hungarian Government Hits Back At Critics
Orbán and Putin’s meeting left officials in the West seething. In a written statement to The Guardian, Pavel said: “Putin does not meet European leaders with the aim of achieving peace in Ukraine … He is only holding these meetings” to break the unity of European countries.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas described images of Orbán shaking hands with Putin as “very, very unpleasant”. Meanwhile, David Pressman, the US ambassador in Budapest, said: “While Russian strikes Ukrainian civilians, Hungary pleads for business deals.”
Hungary has long been drawing flak for democratic backsliding at home and its Russia- and China-friendly policies abroad. And in a move that has frustrated its allies, Budapest – along with Ankara – has yet to ratify Sweden’s application for NATO membership.
A spokesperson for the Hungarian government, hit back at critics. “I find a certain amusement in how these politicians flock to criticise [Hungary] and our openly declared interest in maintaining a diplomatic relationship with Russia, while their moral superiority is a facade at best.”
Serbia’s Aleksandar Vučić Also Had A Short Meeting With Putin
Western leaders have largely eschewed contact with Putin over Moscow’s brutal “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine. Putin could point to the meeting with Orbán as a sign that unity within the EU on its support for the Kyiv government was faltering.
Making a rare trip out of Russia, Putin held a series of meetings with other leaders who had come to Beijing for the forum. On Tuesday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he had a short meeting with Putin, one that is also likely to raise concerns in Europe.