- By Jaroslav Lukiv
- BBC News
Hungary has blocked €50bn ($55bn; £43bn) in EU aid to Ukraine – hours after a deal was reached on the start of membership talks.
“Nightshift Summary: Veto for more money for Ukraine,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said after Thursday’s talks in Brussels.
EU leaders said aid talks would resume early next year.
Ukraine is critically dependent on EU and US funding as it continues to fight against invading Russian forces.
Hungary – which maintains close ties with Russia – has long opposed membership for Ukraine, but has not vetoed the move.
Mr Orban briefly left the negotiating room as the other 26 leaders went ahead to vote.
He told Hungarian state radio on Friday that he had fought for eight hours to prevent his EU partners from advancing, but had been unable to convince them. Ukraine’s path to EU membership would be a long process anyway, and the parliament in Budapest could block it if it wanted to, he added.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the decision in EU membership talks as a “victory”.
Commenting on Mr Orban’s opposition to aid, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “We still have a little time, there is no money in Ukraine in the next few weeks.”
“We have agreed with 26 countries,” he added. “Viktor Orban, Hungary can’t do it yet. I’m sure we’ll get an agreement at the beginning of next year. We’re thinking about the end of January.”
At a news conference early on Friday, Mr Michael confirmed that all but one EU leader had agreed to the aid package and broad budget proposals for the camp – although Sweden still had to consult its parliament.
“We will return to this matter early next year and we will try to reach a consensus,” he said.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia’s occupation forces stalled in early winter, and there are fears that the Russians may simply outrun Ukraine.
Ukraine and neighboring Moldova applied to join the EU in February 2022 after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They were both granted candidate status last June, while Georgia passed.
Mr Zelensky was delighted by the EU’s announcement on membership. “This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that inspires, motivates and strengthens,” X posted.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu said it was an honor to share the path to EU accession with Ukraine. “We would not be here today without Ukraine’s brave resistance against Russia’s brutal invasion,” he wrote.
Earlier this year, Moldova accused Russia of trying to seize power in Chisinau.
White House national security adviser Jack Sullivan welcomed the EU’s “historic” move to hold accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, saying it was an “important step towards fulfilling their Euro-Atlantic ambitions”.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholes praised his fellow leaders for showing a “strong sign of support”, saying it was clear that both Ukraine and Moldova belonged to the “European family”. A diplomat at the summit said it was Mr Scholes’ idea to have Mr Orban leave the room to enable the vote.
The Hungarian leader later distanced himself from his colleagues with a video message on Facebook: “EU membership in Ukraine is a bad decision. Hungary does not want to participate in this bad decision.”
Mr Orban also argued that Ukraine should not receive large amounts of funding from the EU because it is not part of the EU.
Earlier on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin mocked Ukraine for waning Western support, saying: “Pardon my cynicism, but everything comes with a freebie. But those freebies run out at some point.”
EU accession talks could take years, so Thursday’s decision does not guarantee Ukraine’s membership.
EU candidate countries must pass a series of reforms to uphold standards ranging from the rule of law to the economy, although the EU’s administration has praised Ukraine for more than 90% of the measures taken so far in tackling justice and corruption.