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Estonia's Kallas belittles Orbán for Putin handshake

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Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas shamed the two overtly pro-Russian leaders in the EU summit on Thursday (26 October) — Hungary's Viktor Orbán and Slovakia's Robert Fico.

Kallas especially needled Orbán over last week's handshake photo-op with Russian president Vladimir Putin in China.

  • Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán (l) greeting EU Council president Charles Michel inside the summit chamber (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"He [Putin] is a war criminal — he started this war of aggression against a sovereign country [Ukraine], he's deported children, an arrest warrant [against Putin] has been given by the ICC [International Criminal Court]. I wouldn't want to be in the same picture as such a guy," Kallas said.

"This is benefiting the Kremlin not the European Union," she added, noting how Russian propaganda uses Orbán to crow about EU divisions.

Orbán is also vetoing EU financial aid to Ukraine and is a long-standing critic of EU sanctions on Russia.

But he said on Thursday his Putin meeting was meant to be a peace effort.

"We keep open all communication lines with the Russians ... we're proud to do it. We're the ones speaking on behalf of peace," he said.

"The spirit of Europe is with me," he claimed.

He was joined in Brussels by Slovakia's newly-elected prime minister Robert Fico, who didn't speak to media going into the summit.

But Fico confirmed in Bratislava earlier the same day that he was halting bilateral assistance to Ukraine.

"The war in Ukraine is not ours", he reportedly said.

"I won't vote for any sanctions against Russia unless we have analysis of their impact on Slovakia on the table," he added.

The Latvian, Lithuanian, and Luxembourg leaders also attacked Orbán on Thursday.

Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda said it was "really strange" to "flirt" with Putin's regime.

Luxembourg's prime minister, Xavier Bettel, added: "It's showing the middle finger to a country [Ukraine] that suffers daily under Russian missiles."

Kallas also said that both Orbán and Fico were braver when they spoke to media than when they spoke to their EU peers behind closed doors.

"As long as they say the wrong things and do the right things, I think we are fine," she said.

"He [Orbán] has been critical of supporting Ukraine, but he has been part of it," she added, referring to the fact he agreed to 11 rounds of Russia sanctions already.

And cameras showed Orbán and Fico mingling with their fellow leaders with smiles and hugs in the summit chamber, as if to prove Kallas' point.

Orbán's veto on Ukraine funding is also close to coming to an end after Ukraine agreed to de-blacklist a Hungarian bank despite its business ties with Moscow.

"We are waiting for the Ukraine delegation to come to Budapest to discuss that — we're ready to make a deal," Orbán said on Thursday.

The summit is to focus on calling for a "humanitarian pause" in the Gaza war, while reminding Russia that EU support for Ukraine remains steadfast.

Meanwhile, if Orbán gained an ally on Russia in Fico, he's losing one on his other favourite topics — migration and euroscepticism.

Lame duck

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki continued to rail on Thursday against EU migration quotas and imputed EU machinations to control everything in Poland — what Polish people eat, their income tax, what kind of car they drive, how their children are educated, and how to manage Polish forests.

"It's blackmail," he said, after the EU withheld funds from Poland due to his government's anti-democratic ways — just as it froze money for Hungary.

But Morawiecki is a lame duck after his ruling party lost its majority in elections earlier this month, paving the way for a new pro-EU government to take power by the end of the year.

The other populist in the room, Italian prime minister Georgia Meloni, also railed against migration but is, like Morawiecki, staunchly anti-Putin.

And most leaders' comments on Russia indicated that Orbán and Fico were alone in their views.

"We are all together behind Ukraine and its defence of its territorial integrity and national sovereignty," said Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, whose country is chairing the EU until the end of the year.

The EU aside, Orbán has dragged his heels on ratifying Sweden's Nato accession.

But this problem is also expected to melt away after Turkey, the only other Nato ally still to ratify, started the process last week, leaving Orbán on his own against the 30 other Nato chiefs.

"I have respect for all Nato countries that will make their own decision. That concerns Turkey as well as Hungary," Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson said in Brussels.

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