Kyiv official wants Hungarian, Ukrainian leaders to meet over EU membership bid

BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff on Wednesday said he wanted to arrange a meeting between the Ukrainian and Hungarian leaders amid Budapest’s opposition to a proposal to start talks on European Union membership for Kyiv.

Andriy Yermak said he had spoken to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjarto about a possible meeting between Zelenskiy and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — after Orban and his party publicly opposed starting membership talks.

Yermak, writing on Telegram, said the two had agreed “to work on setting a suitable date for such a meeting”.

Unanimous approval at an EU summit next week is needed to proceed with membership talks for Ukraine and ex-Soviet Moldova as recommended by the European Commission. Kyiv sees EU membership as a key step, 21 months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, of moving closer to the West.

Yermak, currently in Washington with a Ukrainian delegation discussing U.S. aid to Kyiv, said Ukraine “was counting on a positive decision” from the EU meeting.

He said parliament in Kyiv would consider in the coming days legislation critical to Ukraine’s membership bid. “We are fulfilling our obligations in full,” Yermak wrote.

Orban has warned that EU leaders could fail to reach a consensus on starting membership talks with Ukraine and said the issue should not be put on the summit’s agenda.

Distrust of Orban is high in Brussels after run-ins during his 13 years in power over the rights of gay people and migrants and tighter state controls over academics, the courts and media. Billions of euros of EU funds for Hungary being frozen.

A parliamentary resolution from his ruling FIDESZ party on Monday said EU expansion “should remain an objective process based on rules and performance.

“The start of membership talks with Ukraine should be based on a consensus among European Union member states… The conditions for this are not present today.”

FIDESZ said EU leaders should make a thorough assessment of how Ukraine’s possible membership would affect cohesion and agricultural policies within the bloc, of which the EU’s poorer members, including Hungary, are among the main beneficiaries.

An inflow of Ukrainian grains into the EU triggered protests from farmers in eastern Europe last year, while Polish truckers have blockaded border crossings with Ukraine, calling on the EU to restore permits limiting transit for Ukrainian competitors.

Orban will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday, ahead of the summit, his press chief said.

“Orban has committed to a very public strategy of creating chaos and panic ahead of the EU Council Summit. The spectacle he is producing is designed to create stress and maximize his leverage before EU leaders meet,” said Roger Hilton, a research fellow at GLOBSEC, a think tank.

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was prevented from leaving the country last week, with the SBU security service saying Russia intended to exploit a meeting he had planned with Orban to hurt Kyiv’s interests.

(Reporting by Boldizsar Gyori, Krisztina Than, Gergely Szakacs and Ron Popeski; Editing by Alex Richardson, Christina Fincher and Diane Craft)