(Bloomberg) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned the European Union against discussing the start of membership talks with Ukraine at a leaders summit in Brussels next week, putting new strain on allied support as Ukrainian forces continue to battle Russian troops
“There are expectations that on this occasion the European Council can and must decide on starting accession negotiations with Ukraine,” according to Orban’s letter to European Council President Charles Michel dated Monday and seen by Bloomberg News. “In view of the current level of political and technical preparations, these expectations are unfounded.”
The letter marks Orban’s second attempt to press the EU council chief to rethink the push to support Ukraine’s accession and throws up a major obstacle given that unanimous support from all 27 EU member states is required to open talks.
It’s also a fresh blow for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose government is struggling to maintain momentum in a counteroffensive against Russia. That effort has been further shaken by concerns about funding from the US, where Republicans in Congress have balked at approving more than $60 billion in new aid.
The new demands will only solidify Orban’s position as the EU’s chief antagonist. The Hungarian premier has undermined Western unity by sealing energy deals with Russia, trying to limit aid to Ukraine, delaying NATO expansion and publicly calling on Brussels to scrap economic sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Orban is also locked in a long-running legal battle with the EU over democratic backsliding. Brussels has suspended more than $30 billion of Hungary’s funding on rule of law and graft concerns — money the prime minister is negotiating to unlock after a prolonged recession and budget crunch.
Read More: Orban Targets EU in New Campaign With Key Funds Still Suspended
Last month, Hungary’s leader asked Michel to hold a strategic discussion on the bloc’s approach toward Ukraine, now 21 months into the war with Russia. “I still believe the European Council is not in a position to take key decisions unless a consensus on our future strategy toward Ukraine is found,” Orban wrote in his latest letter.
He also warned that bringing the topic to the table during next week’s meeting of EU leaders would “inevitably lead to failure” because of the “obvious lack of consensus.” The European Council didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
Draft summit conclusions, also seen by Bloomberg, indicated that the leaders intend to agree “to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and with Moldova” when leaders meet in Brussels, with countries agreeing that a negotiating framework would only be adopted once remaining reform measures are completed. The European Commission has recommended the bloc formally open membership talks with Ukraine upon the completion of several reforms.
In his letter, Orban says the commission’s proposal would mark the end of the EU’s enlargement policy as an objective and merit-based instrument. In addition to opening membership talks, the Hungarian prime minister has been opposed to releasing further aid to Kyiv.
Earlier: EU Backs Opening Ukraine Membership Talks With Conditions
That’s a matter that’s gained new urgency as US congressional efforts to approve new funding for Ukraine have stalled in the face of Republican resistance. On Monday, the director of the US Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, wrote to US House Speaker Mike Johnson, warning that the money was running out.
“There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment,” Young wrote. “We are out of money — and nearly out of time.”
Orban’s letter was equally scathing as far as agreeing on a new EU budget, saying that “discussions so far have been too much focused on the commission’s unsubstantiated, unbalanced and unrealistic proposal.”
Budapest isn’t alone in stalling the budget talks. Other European capitals have also urged Brussels to look for more spending leeway and savings within the current budget.
“A new, inventive and future-proof approach is needed” that “requires further efforts, additional time and a more comprehensive reflection,” Orban wrote.
(Updates with concern over US funding, starting in fourth paragraph.)
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