KYIV (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an outspoken critic of Western military aid to Ukraine, paid a surprise visit to Kyiv on Tuesday for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Orban, who has the warmest relations of any European leader with Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrived a day after Hungary assumed the rotating six-month presidency of the EU Council. It is his first visit to Kyiv in more than a decade.

“The aim of the Hungarian presidency is to contribute to solving the challenges ahead of the European Union. That’s why my first trip was to Kyiv,” Orban wrote on Facebook under a photograph of him shaking hands with Zelenskiy.

Separately, his press chief Bertalan Havasi told Reuters in an email that the two leaders would discuss bilateral relations, saying “the most important topic of the talks is the chance to create peace”, but gave no details.

Zelenskiy and Orban were expected to deliver statements to reporters later on Tuesday.

Ties between the neighbours have come under heavy strain since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, with Budapest often opposing European Union efforts to support Kyiv.

Under Orban, who upset Western partners by holding talks with Putin last October, Hungary has repeatedly accused Ukraine of curbing the rights of roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the far west of Ukraine.

Kyiv has denied any such infringements but said it will do everything to address Budapest’s concerns, which centre around the ethnic Hungarian minority’s language rights and native-language schooling.

Ukraine is keen to secure Hungary’s backing as it relies heavily on financial and military support from the 27-member EU, where unanimity is needed for many decisions.


Last week, the EU opened formal membership talks with Ukraine at its summit in Brussels, giving the country a morale-lifting boost, although a long and tough road still lies ahead before it can join the bloc.

Zelenskiy and Orban were filmed on the sidelines of that summit in what looked like an emotional exchange.

Last year, Orban told Putin that Hungary had never wanted to oppose Russia. In early 2024, it took the EU leaders weeks to break the Hungarian prime minister’s veto to extend 50 billion euros ($53.67 billion) in new aid to Ukraine.

Hungary has used its complaints over language rights in Ukraine to block EU support. In December, Orban left the room before an EU vote on a decision to open accession negotiations for Ukraine.

Kyiv passed a law in 2017 that required all schools to teach students over the age of 10 in the Ukrainian language. Hungary saw this as a breach of the ethnic Hungarian minority’s rights.

Some changes were made in December 2023 when the issue became critical for Kyiv’s EU accession talks. Budapest said the changes were an improvement but didn’t go far enough. ($1 = 0.9316 euros)

(This story has been corrected to reflect that the vote in December was on accession talks, not aid package, in paragraph 13)

(Additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Olena Harmash; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)