BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Saturday that the European Union is partly to blame for prolonging Russia’s war in Ukraine, doubling down on his government’s insistence that supporting Kyiv was a mistaken strategy for Europe.
Speaking at an annual state of the nation address in Budapest, Orban said the EU had fanned the flames of the war by sanctioning Russia and supplying Ukraine with money and weapons, rather than seeking to negotiate a peace with Moscow.
“When Russia launched its attack, the West didn’t isolate the conflict but elevated it to a pan-European level,” Orban said. “The war in Ukraine is not a conflict between the armies of good and evil, but between two Slavic countries that are fighting against one another. This is their war, not ours.”
Under the slogan “Peace and Security,” Orban’s nearly hour-long address focused largely on the conflict in Ukraine, which is approaching its one-year mark, Feb. 24.
The right-wing populist leader has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire, saying he and his government are “on the side of peace,” and condemning his Western allies for providing assistance to Kyiv.
Hungary, he said Saturday, is “part of the Western world, a member of NATO and the European Union where, aside from us, everyone supports the war or at least acts like they do.”
In recent months, Orban has spoken out strongly against several rounds of EU sanctions against Moscow, arguing that they’ve done little to stop the war and have hurt European economies more than Russia. Ultimately, however, he has always voted for them.
Breaking with most of its Western allies, Hungary has refused to provide military aid to Ukraine or allow its transfer across its borders, and has held up some EU efforts to provide financial aid packages to Kyiv.
On Saturday, he said that while Hungary has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine and taken in refugees who fled the war, such assistance “does not mean doing away with our relationships with Russia, because that would be contrary to our national interests.”
“We are maintaining our economic relationship with Russia, and in fact, we recommend that the entire Western world do the same, because without relations, there will not be a ceasefire nor peace talks,” he said.
Over the last decade, Orban’s government has pursued increasingly close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia, and concluded major agreements on buying Russian gas, oil and nuclear fuel. Hungary has threatened to veto any EU sanctions that would affect its access to Russian energy.
Saturday’s address came as Orban faces numerous political and economic obstacles only 10 months after he and his party won a fourth consecutive term in office.
Hungary’s economy slowed to a technical recession in the fourth quarter of 2022, while its forint currency has lost 7.5% against the euro and 15% against the dollar in the last year. Inflation in Hungary is among the highest in the EU at over 25%, well more than double the bloc’s average of just over 10%.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine