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BRUSSELS: EU leaders expressed concern on Thursday over rumours that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — who leads the EU presidency — plans to travel to Moscow. European Council President Charles Michel said there was no “mandate” for this.

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

Hungary took over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Monday, giving the Central European country influence on the community’s agenda and priorities for the next six months.

“The rotating EU presidency has no mandate to cooperate 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 discussion on Ukraine can take place without Ukraine,” he added.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also responded to X, writing: “The rumors about your visit to Moscow can’t be true @PM_ViktorOrban, can they?”

According to the investigative website Vsquare and RFE/RL, citing anonymous sources, Orban is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, just days after his trip to Kiev.

An EU official in Brussels told AFP that “numerous attempts” to confirm reports of Orban’s trip “have been unsuccessful”.

Orban “has not announced any trip to Moscow,” the official said, adding that if the Hungarian prime minister had asked for it, “President Michel would have strongly advised against such a visit.”

If the visit to Moscow is confirmed, it will be the first by an EU leader since Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in April 2022.

Asked by AFP on Thursday about the rumours regarding the visit, the Hungarian government declined to comment.

However, Orban said on Monday that “there will 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 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev.

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

Instead, Zelensky called on Orban to support Kiev’s efforts to achieve peace in cooperation with international partners.

Orban has repeatedly tried to ease EU sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The nationalist leader, in power since 2010, has been a regular critic of Europe’s financial and military support for Kiev, and has blocked a 50 billion euro ($53 billion) aid package for weeks.

He has also openly opposed EU membership talks with Kiev, as well as Brussels’ sanctions against Moscow – although Budapest did not use a veto to block these moves.

Earlier this year, Orban congratulated Putin on winning again in an election that the West condemned.

He praised maintaining dialogue and “mutual respect” between Hungary and Russia “even in difficult geopolitical contexts.”

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