Viktor Orban Travels to Russia for Meeting With Vladimir Putin - The World News

Viktor Orban Travels to Russia for Meeting With Vladimir Putin

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary arrived in Moscow on Friday, a rare trip to Russia by a Western leader and one that quickly stirred discord in the European Union.

Mr. Orban will meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, days after visiting President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

A spokesman for Mr. Orban, Zoltan Kovacs, said the Hungarian leader was in Moscow “as part of his peace mission.” Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, said the Russian president would discuss Ukraine, “among other things,” with Mr. Orban, “who has flown in for a working visit to Moscow.”

Mr. Orban, long an object of European chagrin for his embrace of far-right politics and of authoritarians like Mr. Putin, has said he wants to promote peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders have rejected talks with Russia because they say that Mr. Putin would only seek their country’s capitulation.

It was the first time that a European Union leader had visited Russia for an official meeting with Mr. Putin since the first months of the Ukraine invasion. The Austrian chancellor, Karl Nehammer, made the trip in April 2022.

And it was Mr. Orban’s first meeting with Mr. Putin since October 2023, when the two men sat down on the sidelines of an international summit in Beijing.

Mr. Orban’s trip was doubly provocative because Hungary this week took over the European Union’s rotating presidency. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said that he had not known about Mr. Orban’s trip in advance and noted that he was not representing the European Union.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the bloc’s top diplomat, issued a statement saying that Mr. Orban’s “visit to Moscow takes place, exclusively, in the framework of the bilateral relations between Hungary and Russia.”

The Hungarian prime minister is “thus not representing” the European Union “in any form,” Mr. Borrell added.

As word spread on Thursday about Mr. Orban’s quietly planned trip — it was not announced until after his plane landed in Moscow on Friday — other European Union officials were quick to condemn it.

“The EU rotating presidency has no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU,” said Charles Michel, president of the European Council, the body representing the heads of government of the member states.

“The European Council is clear: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine is the victim,” Mr. Michel said, writing on social media. “No discussions about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine.”

Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland addressed a social media post directly to Mr. Orban. “The rumours about your visit to Moscow cannot be true,” Mr. Tusk wrote, “or can they?”

Almost all Western leaders have shunned meetings with Mr. Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, seeking instead to isolate Mr. Putin on the world stage.

Outside the West, however, leaders have not been shy about sitting down with their Russian counterpart: Xi Jinping, China’s leader, met with Mr. Putin this week in Kazakhstan, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is scheduled to visit Moscow next week.

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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