Orban Visits Russia With Secret Message

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 5, 2024.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s visit to Moscow and his negotiations with President Putin have sent shockwaves around Europe. This is the first time that a Western leader visits Russia since April 2022, and his visit comes just three days after he visited Ukraine and held talks with President Zelensky.

This is a surprise visit, as Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that it was arranged on Tuesday right after the Hungarian Prime Minister concluded his visit to Kyiv. There has been speculation that Orban has a special message to President Putin from President Zelensky, as both parties to the conflict are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of the war entering its third year.

Following the visit to Kyiv, Orban said that he explored the possibility of a lasting ceasefire in Ukraine: “A ceasefire connected to a deadline would give a chance to speed up peace talks. I explored this possibility with the president and I am grateful for his honest answers and negotiation”, said the Hungarian PM. Zelensky did not respond to these comments publicly, but his foreign policy advisor Ihor Zhovkva stressed that Ukraine sees the only tool to bring peace to Ukraine, which is the peace summit recently held in Switzerland.

Before travelling to Moscow, Orban declared that his intention was to hear both sides of the conflict and during the talks with Russian President Putin he published an official publication, stating that “it is necessary to act to bring peace to Europe” and noting that Hungary has become the only country to be able to speak freely with both Russia and Ukraine.

Orban’s visit follows Putin’s pace proposal, which was laid out at one of the meetings of the highest leadership of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During that speech, Putin stressed that dialogue without Russia is impossible. He also stated the concrete conditions that have to be met for the hostilities to end: Ukraine must withdraw all of its military from Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, as well as Kherson and Zaporozhye oblasts and give up the idea of joining NATO, becoming a neutral state. Putin also reiterated Moscow’s stance when it comes to the denuclearization, demilitarization, and denazification of Ukraine.

It is also noteworthy that President Putin outlines only one legitimate body of power in Ukraine, which is the Verkhovna Rada – the country’s legislative assembly. President Zelensky is considered by Moscow as illegitimate as his mandate as President has expired following his decision not to hold new presidential elections in May.

There has been speculation on social media that the current visit of the Hungarian PM has something to do with this peace plan, which he proposed directly to President Zelensky three days ago. This is one of the instances of “shuttle diplomacy” – a tactic primarily used by prominent US diplomat Henry Kissinger in the Middle East in the 1970s and 80s. Viktor Orban is currently playing the part of one of the primary peacemakers in Europe, not being afraid of talking to both parties to the conflict.

This boldness has stirred criticism in Brussels, as most prominent European leaders have already spoken against Hungary’s position. Ursula von der Leyen, for instance, said that “European unity” is what is needed to stop this conflict. “Appeasement will not stop Putin. Our unity and determination will pave the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting ceasefire in Ukraine”, she said in a post on Twitter/X. Europe’s newest top diplomat who is awaiting confirmation by the European Parliament Kaja Kallas said that Viktor Orban in no way represents the EU or the EU’s positions and is exploiting the EU presidency position “to sow confusion”.

Thus, a profound rift has been opened between the dominating EU establishment consisting of centrist political groupings and the proponents of peace talks in Ukraine. Judging by the results of the recent European election, which saw far-right parties gain significant momentum and the general wariness of Europeans when it comes to seeing news of never-ending hostilities on their Eastern borders, it is likely that Orban’s initiative will gain ground.

Still, the most important piece of news is what message he had to convey to President Putin by organizing such a hasty visit. This will be kept secret, but there must be new peace initiatives on the table.

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