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Pressure on Hungary to Unblock EU Talks12/11 06:10


   BRUSSELS (AP) -- Pressure mounted on Hungary on Monday not to veto the 
opening of European Union membership talks and the supply of economic aid to 
war-torn Ukraine at a pivotal EU summit this week, after Prime Minister Viktor 
Orban demanded that the issue be struck from the agenda.

   With tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance blocked 
by Senate Republicans in the United States, Ukraine is desperate to ensure 
longer-term financial and military assistance as fighting in its almost 2-year 
war with Russia bogs down.

   In a draft of the summit statement seen by The Associated Press, the EU's 
leaders will decide to open accession negotiations with Ukraine. But Orban 
insists that a "strategic discussion" is needed, given the stalemate on the 
battlefield and uncertainty about U.S. leadership after elections next year.

   "I hope that the European unity will not be broken because this is not the 
moment to weaken our support to Ukraine. Just the contrary, this is the moment 
to increase it," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in 
Brussels, where he chaired a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers.

   Decisions on EU enlargement, which also concern Bosnia, Georgia, Moldova 
this week, and a review of the bloc's long-term budget that includes 50 billion 
euros ($54.1 billion) in aid for Kyiv, can only be taken unanimously by all 27 
member countries.

   Hungary relies on Russia for some of its energy supplies, and Orban is seen 
as President Vladimir Putin's strongest ally in Europe. The government in 
Budapest has routinely blocked work on sanctions against Moscow linked to the 

   In a letter to European Council President Charles Michel, who will chair the 
two-day summit starting on Thursday, Orban warned that forcing a decision on 
Ukraine could destroy EU unity. Other government leaders, ministers and EU 
officials admit to being perplexed about what Orban wants.

   "The only way I can read the Hungarian position, not just on Ukraine but on 
many other issues, is that they are against Europe and everything Europe stands 
for," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

   Landsbergis said that he hopes reason will prevail, "if not, dark times can 
lie ahead."

   His Finnish counterpart, Elina Valtonen, lamented that "the position of 
Hungary has indeed been very, very deplorable over the course of the past 
months. It is crucial that we keep on aiding Ukraine for as long as it's 

   Orban has become more vocal about Ukraine, notably corruption there, since 
the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, blocked Hungary's access to 
billions of euros in funding over concerns about democratic backsliding in the 

   The commission already released some funds last month and it is expected to 
ease Hungary's access to a further 10 billion euros ($10.8 billion) this week, 
but officials doubt whether it will make much difference come Thursday.

   Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who also met Monday with his EU 
counterparts, said that his country is "still struggling to understand these 
harsh statements from Hungary." He said that Ukraine has met all the conditions 
required for EU membership talks to start.

   Last month, the commission, which supervises the enlargement process, 
recommended that Ukraine be allowed open membership talks once it addresses 
issues like corruption, lobbying concerns and restrictions that might prevent 
its minorities from studying and reading in their own languages.

   Kuleba said that three draft laws meeting that demand have already been 
passed by parliament, while a fourth is currently being assessed by the 

   "We can jump, we can dance, if that is requested in addition to what has 
been done. But I think that the game should be played fairly," Kuleba told 
reporters. "Ukraine did within months what was expected to be done."

   At an inauguration ceremony on Sunday in Argentina for new President Javier 
Milei, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy could be seen briefly exchanging 
words with Orban. "It was a highly straightforward conversation, focused on our 
European affairs," Zelenskyy said later.

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