Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban urged Kyiv on Tuesday to work towards a “quick ceasefire” in Ukraine that could pave the way for negotiations with Russia to end more than two years of war.

Orban issued the appeal standing next to President Volodymyr Zelensky during a surprise visit to Ukraine, the first by the vocal critic of Western support for Kyiv.

“I asked the president to consider whether… a quick ceasefire could speed up the peace talks,” the Hungarian leader told reporters with Zelensky, adding that the ceasefire he envisions would be “time-limited.”

Unlike many other European leaders, Orban had not visited Kyiv since Russia invaded in February 2022 and has publicly hit out at Europe’s financial and military aid, temporarily blocking a 50-billion-euro ($53-billion) aid package for weeks.

The nationalist leader has also blasted the EU’s move to open formal membership talks with Kyiv — although he abstained rather than vetoing it — and has been accused of maintaining warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Orban, in power since 2010, met with Putin in October 2023 at a regional summit in Beijing, becoming the first EU leader to do so since the beginning of the war.

A ‘just peace’

Hungary openly opposes sanctions on Russia, although has so far only sought to hold up the EU’s measures, not outright block them.

The Kremlin said earlier Tuesday it expected little to come of the visit but described Orban as a “tough” politician who keenly defended his country’s interests.

The visit to Ukraine comes the day after Hungary took over the EU’s rotating presidency for the next six months, a position which gives the central European state sway over the bloc’s agenda and priorities for the rest of the year.

Orban said he would report on his talks with Zelensky to EU prime ministers “so that the necessary European decisions can be taken.”

Zelensky said the timing of the visit, after Hungary took over the EU presidency, was symbolic.

“This is a clear indication of our common European priorities, of how important it is to bring a just peace to Ukraine,” he said, urging European countries to maintain military support.

Despite sharing a border with Ukraine, Hungary has also taken in significantly fewer refugees than most EU members.

Orban’s visit came as Russian forces killed one person and wounded seven more in the southern Kherson region, which is partially occupied.

Moscow has claimed the capture of a string of villages in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.

Historical tensions

Relations have been frosty between Orban and Zelensky since the start of the war.

After winning re-election in April 2022, Orban said the Ukrainian leader was an “opponent” that he had managed to defeat in the campaign.

Zelensky had personally called out Orban for his lack of support to Kyiv in the days after Russia invaded — a position that has only appeared to harden with the war now in its third year.

In December, Zelensky sought out the Hungarian leader at the inauguration of Argentine President Javier Milei for what he called a “frank” conversation.

Videos circulated online showing the pair locked in a tense exchange, with Orban standing with his back to the wall and Zelensky in front of him.

The pair were again filmed in a short, animated exchange, last week on the sidelines of an EU Council meeting in Brussels.

Hungary wields outsize influence over the West’s support for Ukraine given its membership of both the EU and NATO.

That gives it the ability to thwart, delay, water down or outright block initiatives and funding to support Kyiv.

After a phone call in May, Zelensky said: “Hungary’s position is important to us when it comes to bringing peace and common regional security closer.”

Negotiations over a substantive face-to-face meeting between the pair have been in the works for months, according to statements by Ukrainian officials.

Tensions between Kyiv and Budapest pre-date the Russian invasion, with Hungary angry at Ukraine’s language policies.

More than 100,000 ethnic Hungarians live in Ukraine, most in the western Zakarpattia region, part of Hungary until the end of World War I.

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