Ukraine warned Monday that its European ambitions are at risk as EU leaders struggle to agree on renewing financial support for Kyiv and extending an invitation to start membership talks.
Leaders of the 27 European Union members meet Thursday to decide the fate of a promised 50 billion-euro ($54 billion) aid package, additional funds for weapons shipments and opening Ukraine’s path to join the bloc.
But key EU issues require unanimity, and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to block any new support for Ukraine, 21 months after the Russian invasion.
With US backing for Ukraine also under threat from Republicans in Congress, the Ukrainian government is alarmed about faltering support from the country’s other main ally.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters in Brussels on Monday he “cannot imagine” the fallout if EU leaders snub Kyiv’s hope of membership talks.
“I don’t even want to talk about the devastating consequences that will occur shall the Council fail to make this decision,” he said when he arrived to help prepare the European Council summit.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has long stressed how vital it is that European capitals decide this year to start formal EU membership negotiations with his country.
Hungary aside, Ukraine enjoys broad support in EU capitals, both in its campaign to defeat Russia’s all-out invasion — launched in February last year — and in its quest to join the bloc.
But the 50 billion euros promised by Brussels might become a stumbling block, with diplomats warning that member states are divided over how to finance it.
“We have to provide operational military support, yes, but we have also to work on a predictable long term funding,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell warned after talks with ministers.
“We are very clear this is not the moment to weaken our support to Ukraine. By the contrary, this is the moment to increase and speed up support,” he said.
Borrell said he expected the leaders to come up with a plan to finance the 50 billion euros and to come up with another five billion euros for a military support package.
Brussels will also, he said, present them with a plan to raise funds by reinvesting profits on frozen Russian assets in aid to Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that the war would likely “drag on for a long time”.
– ‘Extraordinary pressure’ –
He said it was “important to formulate a long-term perspective that we are prepared to support Ukraine for as long as it is necessary and to the extent it is necessary”.
And Scholz warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “hoping” that the will to support Ukraine for as long as necessary “diminishes”.
“It would be a very important message to tell him: don’t count on it.”
But Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto denounced what he said was “extraordinary pressure exerted at the political and media levels” to push Budapest to accept Ukraine’s EU candidacy.
“This is unacceptable,” he said, insisting Kyiv did not meet the criteria to begin accession talks.
Kuleba held what he said were “very long and frank” talks with his Hungarian counterpart Szijjarto on Monday.
“I told Peter clearly: We have a common future in Europe. We must achieve it as quickly as possible. Together,” Kuleba said.
It was not immediately clear whether the meeting had closed the gap between the two sides.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recommended last month that both Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova be allowed to begin membership talks.
But Hungary’s Orban, who is both close to Moscow and in dispute with Brussels over frozen EU funds for his country, could veto them.
Orban last week demanded that European Council President Charles Michel take the accession talks with Ukraine be taken off the summit agenda because of what he called an “obvious lack of consensus”.
Having earlier demanded a “strategic discussion” on whether to continue backing Ukraine’s defence, he now warned that all manner of EU business could be disrupted by the push to start the talks.
– ‘Very deplorable’ –
Brussels has not struck the issue from the summit agenda, and intense diplomacy was under way to head off a crisis.
Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Orban at a dinner in Paris to sound him out about backing Europe’s support for Ukraine.
And Zelensky was recorded on video in Buenos Aires at the weekend in an apparently tense conversation with Orban on the sidelines of the inauguration of President Javier Milei.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers and officials preparing the summit piled pressure on the Hungarian strongman.
Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen called Hungary’s position “very, very deplorable”.
“It is crucial that we keep on aiding Ukraine for as long as it’s needed. And it’s not only for the cause of Ukraine but also for our own cause,” she said.
European diplomats believe Orban is stalling to pressure Brussels to release billions of euros of EU support to Budapest that was frozen over a dispute about the rule of law in Hungary.