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Orbán as 'peacemaker': Ukraine's reaction to Hungarian PM visit and Western media feedback

Orbán as 'peacemaker': Ukraine's reaction to Hungarian PM visit and Western media feedback Photo: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visits Ukraine on July 2 (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's first visit to Kyiv in many years has become one of the top topics in both Ukrainian and foreign media. Especially, about the "peace proposal" - to consider a ceasefire before negotiations with Russia.

RBC-Ukraine has collected reactions to Orbán's visit and provides an overview of the Western media.


The Hungarian prime minister came to Ukraine after a long break. There were many reasons for his trip, particularly the rights of the Hungarian minority. According to Western media, the visit was finalized after some concessions from the Ukrainian side. It gives hope that the ice in relations between Kyiv and Budapest is gradually breaking.

In his final statement, Orbán emphasized that the parties were trying to close all previous disputes and focus on the future. He also said that talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had brought the possible signing of a cooperation agreement closer.

He did not avoid mentioning the Russian-Ukrainian war either. However, his "peace proposal" is more in line with the Kremlin's narrative that a ceasefire is necessary to start negotiations.

"I asked Mr. President to think about whether it is possible to go a little differently. Ceasefire and then start negotiations. Because a ceasefire could speed up the negotiations. I told Mr. President about that and I am very grateful for his frank opinion," Orbán said.

He did not specify what exactly Zelenskyy answered. However, in a conversation with the Swiss Die Weltwoche, he confirmed the assumption that the Ukrainian leader rejected the idea of an "immediate truce."

Ukraine's reaction

Commenting on Orbán's visit, President Zelenskyy emphasized that the PM arrived immediately after Hungary's presidency of the European Union began. According to him, this was a clear signal of how important it is to maintain unity in Europe and take joint steps.

At the meeting, they talked a lot about the path to a just and fair peace with Russia. Zelenskyy stressed Budapest's participation in the Peace Summit and support for the communiqué, and invited Orbán to join the preparations for the second summit, for which "there are already good developments."

The Presidential Office responded to the Hungarian prime minister's proposal. According to Ihor Zhovkva, Deputy Head of the Office, Hungary is not the first country to speak about the alleged need to first ceasefire and then hold peace talks.

"The President listened to the interlocutor, but in response, he stated his position, which is clear, understandable, and known," he said, adding that the response was a plan to hold a second Peace Summit, in which Russian participation is possible if the aggressor stops speaking the language of ultimatums.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the Head of the OP, called the idea of a unilateral ceasefire "simple and primitive." He also recalls the statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that even if the negotiation process begins, Moscow will not stop the attacks.

"Russia is literally begging through strange intermediaries for the return of an informal decision to ban... defensive strikes for Ukraine. To continue to pull resources to the border in silence, to prepare new large-scale attacks, not to lose air defense systems and equipment," he wrote on his Telegram.

The Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security believes that the visit will give a new impetus to Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. It says that the discussion of national minority rights on a parity basis was a positive development. Indeed, Orbán pledged to finance the first Ukrainian school in Hungary, adding that there would be as many such schools as needed.

But it would be more appropriate for the prime minister to put forward the initiative for a unilateral ceasefire to Hungary's Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, who spoke with Lavrov on the same day, rather than to Ukraine.

US reaction

Among Ukraine's partners, the reaction to Orbán's visit came mainly from US representatives. The American ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman, noted that Washington welcomed the trip to Kyiv.

"Progress," he wrote briefly on X.

The State Department commented on the ceasefire proposal. Its spokesman Vedant Patel said at a briefing that the only solution to end the war is the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. This is the position of both the United States and NATO allies.

"We have been clear with partners and allies across the board that any country that has influence or has a role to play should play every effort in ensuring that Russia withdraws from Ukraine totally," he said.

On the same day, the Pentagon announced a new $2.3 billion package for Ukraine, which will include air defense equipment.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believe that Orbán used his visit to Kyiv to position himself as a peacemaker after Hungary started its presidency at EU Council. They conclude that his efforts are unlikely to lead to a lasting peace.

The report says that the Kremlin has stepped up its information campaign to push Ukraine to negotiate on Russia's terms. Orbán's proposal may support Vladimir Putin's strategic line aimed at providing an operational pause or convincing Kyiv's allies to stop supporting it.

Western media about Orbán's visit

"Hungary’s Orbán plays peacemaker in Ukraine". This was the headline of a Politico article. It accentuated Orbán's message that Ukraine should not wait for Moscow to withdraw its troops before starting peace talks.

The idea of a unilateral ceasefire is not brand new. Orbán is considered Russia's closest ally in the EU after repeatedly obstructing European aid to Kyiv. In fact, he has been supporting the ceasefire since 2022, the media writes.

The proposal to "accelerate peace talks" coincided with the visit of a Ukrainian delegation to Washington to meet with senior officials of the Joe Biden administration ahead of next week's NATO summit. The delegation included Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko, and Presidential Administration Chief of staff Andriy Yermak.

To retain European and American aid, Ukraine needs to keep all doors open, Politico notes.

Because of Hungary's ties to Russia, maintaining relatively warm relations with Budapest could be crucial for Kyiv's support, says Eugene Finkel, Professor of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University.

"Like it or not, Kyiv will have to work with Budapest because of its interim role on issues, including EU and NATO membership. Unfortunately, Hungary is crucial to both blocs," he added.

Ukraine's talks with Orbán, representatives of the Biden administration, and Donald Trump's team show that it is working diligently to retain more partners, regardless of who comes to power in Europe and the United States. This is especially true given Biden's poor performance in the first debate.

"Zelenskyy can 'read the room' (understand the audience - ed.). He has seen the US presidential debates and the results of the first round of elections in France. And he knows that if he wants to keep support, he will have to work with the entire cast of characters," said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

The Washington Post cites the opinion of Zsuzsanna Végh, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. According to her, the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council provided a "good reason" for the meeting of the leaders of Hungary and Ukraine.

"For Orbán, the visit may also serve to portray him as a more constructive actor and build his image as an advocate for peace. Orbán’s position or request toward Zelenskyy — calling for a cease-fire before peace negotiations — continues to reflect a disregard for Kyiv’s views," she said.

The New York Times sharply criticizes Orbán’s "peace proposal". It calls the phrase "promoting peace" used by the Hungarian authorities a euphemism for an attempt to settle the conflict via Ukraine's capitulation to Russia's demands.

Many observers saw Orbán’s visit as a step toward ending the isolation in the European arena caused by its position on Ukraine.

Former diplomat and foreign policy expert in Budapest Zsomber Zeold emphasizes that the trip was a complete surprise. The most plausible explanation is an attempt to gain more credibility in the European Union and get rid of the reputation of a pro-Russian player (a position that only a few marginal figures in Europe want to be associated with).

Peter Kreko, director of the Political Capital think tank in Budapest, described the trip as a "wise and unexpected surprise" that could increase Orbán’s chances of rapprochement with the EU and forming an alliance in the European Parliament with conservatives such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. His pro-Kremlin stance on Ukraine hindered this move.

"He knows that visiting Zelenskyy is code for being a ‘member of the club’, and he would like to send a strong message to E.U. leaders that he is in the club even if he plays the outsider many times," the expert noted.

A sign that Orbán wants to get rid of the toxic image of the Kremlin's puppet was the June meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. During the meeting, the Hungarian prime minister assured that he would not veto the Alliance's support for Ukraine.

Playing a European peacekeeper has previously paid political dividends. First, in the 2022 elections, when the Fidesz party won a landslide victory after vilifying the opposition leader for allegedly intending to send Hungarians to fight in Ukraine. A similar approach worked in the 2024 European Parliament elections. Fidesz claimed that support for Ukraine could provoke the Third World War and also opposed mandatory military conscription. Even though there were no such proposals, the fear inspired by Orbán's party helped to achieve results in the European legislature.

Domestic political expediency has deprived him of appeal outside Hungary. Orbán's most active supporters abroad have been right-wing Americans such as Donald Trump. In Europe, only the Slovak government is actively opposed to supporting Ukraine. And this is a problem for a man whose ambitions go far beyond Hungary.

"The Hungarian domestic political scene is too small for Orbán. He wants to play on a bigger playing field. And that is the EU," added Zsomber Zeold.

Sources: Politico, The Washington Post, The New York Times, statements by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian and Western officials.