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Putin’s former EU ally Orban once again annoys Brussels with pushbacks

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Hungary is blocking fresh financial support for Ukraine as the country attempts to shed its own EU funds, with nationalist leader Viktor Orban once again ruffling the feathers in the heart of Brussels.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, in November proposed an 18 billion euro ($18.9 billion) package for the war-torn nation. The funds are supposed to be disbursed regularly throughout 2023. But Hungary was the only country among the 27 EU states to veto the plan.

Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, often seen as a scourge on European politics with once-warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, took to Twitter on Tuesday. “Today’s news was about Hungary’s opposition to financial aid to Ukraine. This is fake news. Hungary is ready to provide financial aid to Ukraine, on a bilateral basis. No veto, no blackmail,” he said.

But Brussels does not agree. Some EU officials believe the Budapest vote was an attempt to impose its own EU funding. An EU official close to the ministers’ talks who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue told CNBC: “They [Hungary] will deny it, [but] they want to create a leverage effect and take two files hostage.”

In addition to additional funding for Ukraine, Hungary is also preventing the approval of new tax rules in the EU. It comes at a time when €7.5bn earmarked for Hungary has been frozen and a further €5.8bn is also on hold until it takes action to address concerns over the independence of its judiciary. Without progress on these reforms before the end of this year, Hungary could even lose a significant part of this last cash sum.

“Hungary is blocking [money to Ukraine] for no reason,” a second EU official, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told CNBC. “There is no appetite from the other 26 [countries] be useful,” added the same official.

The other 26 EU countries are trying to circumvent Hungary’s opposition and send the extra funds to Ukraine anyway. “We are doing everything we can so that the money can be disbursed at the beginning of January, our maximum, whether it is plan A or plan B at any price, we have to do it,” said the Czech finance minister. Zbyněk Stanjura at a press conference. Tuesday.

Details are still being worked out, but tensions over European funds highlight the often difficult relationship between Hungary and the rest of the EU. Hungary has had a contentious relationship with Russia over the years. Just before the Kremlin began its invasion of Ukraine, Orban told a joint press conference with Putin how they had worked closely together over the past 13 years.

Budapest bought vaccines from Russia during the Covid-19 pandemic and struck energy and trade deals with Moscow during those years.

But Orban supported European sanctions against Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine. He also challenged some decisions on Russian fossil fuel divestment. In fact, Hungary negotiated new gas deals with Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, in August.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in November that he had just received 2.5 billion euros from the EU. “A strong contribution to Ukraine’s stability on the eve of a difficult winter,” he said, while adding that he “now awaits the approval of 18 billion euros” for 2023.


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