Brussels, Warsaw voice concerns as Hungary's Orban rumoured to visit Moscow

European leaders voiced concerns Thursday over rumours that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — at the helm of the EU’s presidency — was about to travel to Moscow, with Council President Charles Michel saying there was “no mandate” for it.

Orban is the only EU leader to have maintained close ties with the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

On Monday, Hungary took over the European Union’s rotating presidency, giving the central European country sway over the bloc’s agenda and priorities for the next six months.

“The EU rotating presidency has no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU,” Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“The European Council is clear: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine is the victim. No discussions about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine,” he added.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also took to X, posting: “The rumours about your visit to Moscow cannot be true @PM_ViktorOrban, or can they?”

According to the investigative portal Vsquare and the media outlet RFE/RL, which quoted anonymous sources, Orban is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, just days after travelling to Kyiv.

If confirmed, the Moscow visit would be the first one by a European leader since Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in April 2022.

Asked by AFP about an upcoming visit by Orban to Russia earlier on Thursday, the Hungarian government declined to comment.

But on Monday, Orban foreshadowed that there would be “surprising news from surprising places”.

Orban and Putin last met in October 2023 in Beijing, where they discussed energy cooperation.

On Tuesday, the Hungarian leader met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

During the visit, Orban urged Ukraine to work towards a “time-limited” ceasefire with Russia to speed up peace talks.

Zelensky instead called on Orban to back Kyiv’s steps to work for peace in conjunction with international partners.

Orban has repeatedly sought to soften EU sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The populist leader, in power since 2010, regularly criticises Europe’s financial and military support for Kyiv and temporarily blocked a 50-billion-euro ($53-billion) aid package for weeks.

He has also openly opposed holding EU membership talks with Kyiv as well as Brussels’ sanctions on Moscow — though Budapest has not used its veto to block the moves.

Earlier this year, Orban congratulated Putin on winning re-election in a vote condemned by the West, praising the maintenance of dialogue and “mutual respect” between Hungary and Russia “even in challenging geopolitical contexts”.