Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to choose a side when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during a heartfelt speech to EU leaders.
Zelenskiy said Orbán had to “decide who you are with”, as he thanked EU leaders for imposing sanctions on Russia but blamed them for being “a bit late”.
A visibly weary but adamant Zelenskiy checked out the 27 EU member states in his speech via video link on Thursday night, noting those who supported Ukraine and those he thought could do more.
But the thorniest moment came when Zelenskiy confronted the Hungarian leader, whose recent condemnation of the war has not dispelled doubts about his pro-Kremlin leanings, after years as Vladimir’s staunchest ally. Putin in the EU. “Look, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol? said Zelenskiy, drawing a line between the brutal bombardment of the strategic port city and Hungary’s past.
Referring to Hungary’s “tragic history”, Zelenskiy recalled visiting a memorial on the banks of the Danube that commemorates Hungarian Jews who were shot in 1944-45 by local fascists. Dozens of iron shoes are embedded in the embankment in memory of the men, women and children who were forced to remove their shoes, before being shot in the freezing river.
Speaking directly to Orbán, Zelenskiy said: “Please, if you can, go to the water’s edge, look at these shoes. And you will see how massacres can happen in the world of And that’s what Russia still does today. The same shoes. In Mariupol there are the same people. Adults and children. Grandparents. And there are thousands of them. And those thousands are gone and you are hesitating whether to impose sanctions or not.
Accusing Orbán of hesitating to let arms through Hungary and cutting off trade with Russia, he said: “There is no time to hesitate. It’s time to decide.
The Hungarian government does not join other EU countries in supplying arms to Ukraine, nor will it allow weapons to pass through its territory. Budapest argues that such measures would endanger residents of Transcarpathia, a region in western Ukraine with a large Hungarian minority.
In a statement, Orbán’s spokesman Zoltán Kovács rejected Zelenskiy’s demands to send arms to Ukraine and to ban Russian energy supplies as “against the interests of Hungary”, adding that “close oil and gas taps would mean that Hungarian families would pay the price of war”.
Hungarian opposition leader Peter Márki-Záy, who is vying to become Hungary’s first new prime minister in 12 years in parliamentary elections on April 3, said Orbán had put “Hungary to shame”, was isolated and had lost allies, adding: “He is seen as Putin’s henchman in the west.
Renewing Ukraine’s call for EU membership, Zelenskiy listed all EU member states, assessing their level of support. Poland, the Baltic states, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria were on Ukraine’s side, he said, but others, he suggested, still had a way to go. to do: “Spain, we will find common ground with…Ireland, well almost…We believe that Germany will also be with us at the crucial moment.
The only other leader mentioned by Zelenskiy was French President Emmanuel Macron, with a hint that he had yet to detect full support from Paris. “France, Emmanuel, I really believe that you will support us.” France, together with the Netherlands, has warned against too rapid enlargement of the EU and does not want to rush the accession process.
Despite Zelenskiy’s call for new sanctions, EU leaders made no immediate pledges of restrictions against Russia, but said in a late-night statement that they would “act quickly with new coordinated robust sanctions against Russia and Belarus to effectively thwart Russian capabilities to continue aggression.” ”.
Zelenskiy was speaking to EU leaders after meeting Joe Biden in a show of transatlantic unity. The US president stressed the importance of maintaining the momentum of the sanctions, while expressing his understanding of Europe’s difficulty in weaning itself off Russian fossil fuels, according to an EU official familiar with the talks.
On Friday, Biden and European Council President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the United States would supply “at least” 15 billion cubic meters (bcm) of liquefied natural gas to the EU in 2022 to help Europe. to reduce its consumption of Russian gas. Von der Leyen said it was a “big step” and promised the EU would ensure “stable demand” for 50 billion cubic meters of US shipping gas by 2030. In 2021 , Russia sent about 155 billion cubic meters to the EU, or about 40% of the bloc’s gas consumption.
Following a heated discussion over EU electricity market rules and soaring energy prices, EU leaders agreed on a voluntary program to jointly purchase gas, LNG and hydrogen in order to strengthen the weight of the block on the market with the aim of bringing down prices.
They also reiterated their commitment to phasing out dependence on Russian coal, oil and gas “as soon as possible,” but, as expected, reversed a decision on banning Russian fossil fuel imports. Von der Leyen said the sanctions were “biting hard” on the Russian economy and that “all our efforts should be focused on enforcing these sanctions and preventing circumvention and evasion.”
More than 40 countries representing more than half of the world’s GDP have sanctioned Russia, she added.