- Written by Yaroslav Lukiev
- BBC News
Hungary has blocked €50bn ($55bn, £43bn) in EU aid to Ukraine – just hours after reaching an agreement on the start of membership talks.
“Night shift summary: veto over additional funds for Ukraine,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said after Thursday’s talks in Brussels.
European Union leaders said aid negotiations would resume early next year.
Ukraine relies heavily on funding from the European Union and the United States as it continues to fight the occupying Russian forces.
Hungary – which maintains close ties with Russia – has long opposed Ukraine’s membership but has not vetoed the move.
Orban left the negotiating room momentarily, in what officials described as a constructive and pre-agreed manner, while the other 26 leaders went ahead with the vote.
He told Hungarian state radio on Friday that he fought for eight hours to prevent his EU partners from moving forward but was unable to convince them. He added that Ukraine’s path to EU membership would be a long process in any case, adding that the parliament in Budapest could still prevent this from happening if it wanted to.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the EU’s decision on membership talks as a “victory.”
Commenting on Orban’s opposition to aid, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “We still have some time. Ukraine will not run out of money in the next few weeks.”
He added, “We have agreed with the 26 countries.” “Viktor Orban, Hungary, has not yet been able to do that. I’m fairly confident we can reach an agreement early next year. We’re thinking late January.”
At a press conference in the early hours of Friday, Michel confirmed that all but one EU leader had agreed to the aid package and the bloc’s broader budget proposals – although Sweden still needs to consult its parliament.
“We will return to this issue early next year and try to get consensus,” he said.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian occupation forces has stalled with the onset of winter, and there are fears that the Russians will simply outmaneuver Ukraine.
Ukraine and neighboring Moldova applied to join the EU after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Both were granted candidate status last June, while Georgia was bypassed at the time.
Zelensky expressed his happiness with the European Union’s announcement regarding membership. “This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens,” he wrote in a post on X.
Moldova’s President Maia Sandu said that it is a great honor to share with Ukraine the path towards joining the European Union. “We would not be here today without Ukraine’s courageous resistance against Russia’s brutal invasion,” she wrote.
Earlier this year, Moldova claimed that Russia was seeking to seize power in Chisinau.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan welcomed the “historic” step taken by the European Union to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, calling it a “decisive step toward realizing their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz praised his fellow leaders for showing a “strong signal of support,” adding that it was clear that Ukraine and Moldova belonged to the “European family.” A diplomat at the summit said it was Schulz’s idea for Orban to leave the room to enable the vote to take place.
The Hungarian leader later distanced himself from his colleagues with a video message on Facebook: “Ukraine’s membership in the European Union is a bad decision. Hungary does not want to participate in this bad decision.”
Orban also said that Ukraine should not receive significant funds from the EU because it is not part of the bloc.
Earlier on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin mocked Ukraine and claimed Western support was running out: “Excuse my vulgarity, but everything is offered as a freebie. But these freebies may run out at some point.”
Talks on joining the European Union could take years, so Thursday’s decision will not guarantee Ukraine’s membership.
Candidate countries to join the European Union must pass a series of reforms to adhere to criteria ranging from the rule of law to the economy, although the EU executive has already praised Ukraine for completing more than 90% of the steps taken so far in the field of justice and tackling corruption.
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