Orban in Kiev: “Ukraine Should Consider a Ceasefire”

The prime minister of Hungary, acting president of the European Union, visited Ukraine for the first time since 2012

Viktor Orban da Zelensky

The talks between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky centered on resolving the armed conflict with Russia, protecting the rights of the Hungarian minority, and the transit of Russian gas through Ukrainian territory. “I asked Zelensky to consider a ceasefire before the start of talks with Russia in order to speed up the peace process,” Orban told reporters after a private meeting with the Ukrainian president.

Hungarian media emphasize the importance of Orban’s quick visit to Kiev: the last time he visited Ukraine was in 2012, when Viktor Yanukovych was still in power and Crimea had not yet returned to Russia following a popular referendum.

Therefore, Orban insisted that Zelensky should start a “real peace process.” For several months now – after the failed Ukrainian counteroffensive last summer – Russian troops have been increasing the pressure on the enemy day by day, constantly advancing. In recent days, the Russian army has claimed to have seized at least five sites in Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.

Beyond the issue of war and peace, there are many unresolved bilateral issues between Kiev and Budapest, on which, as Orban emphasized, “we want to make progress” in order to “build better relations” and “put past differences behind us.” First of all, this is the issue of the rights of the Hungarian minority – about 150 thousand people – living in Ukrainian Transcarpathia. Transcarpathia, the westernmost region of Ukraine, borders Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. The region is in a strategic position for the passage of energy resources. Hungary accuses the Ukrainian authorities of suppressing the Hungarian minority and failing to respect the human rights of ethnic Hungarians. After fierce protests by Hungary, which in recent months delayed for weeks the green light for tens of billions of euros in European aid to Kiev, last December the Kiev government rescinded regulations requiring Ukrainian-language teaching in schools of Transcarpathia starting at age 10. Although Budapest welcomed “Ukraine’s retreat,” it said it was not enough.

Finally, Orban raised the thorny issue of Russian gas. Hungary is heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies, which continue to flow to some Eastern European countries, including Hungary, via the former Soviet-era Druzhba (“Friendship”) gas pipeline through Ukraine. The agreement on the transit of Russian gas, which brings the Ukrainian treasury about $1.5 billion per year, expires at the end of 2024, and Kiev, supported in this decision by the European Commission, said it does not intend to extend it.