EU heavyweights face a showdown with Hungary this week over the granting of billions in aid to Ukraine and the possibility of starting accession negotiations – both key goals for Kiev as the war with Russia stalls.

European Union leaders will meet at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday (December 14 and 15) to decide on proposals to give Kiev 50 billion euros in economic support, with another 20 billion euros for to provide Ukraine’s military and begin accession negotiations.

Securing new financial aid from Europe is crucial as doubts grow about future U.S. support for Kiev, which relies on Western financial aid for its war with Russia.

But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who boasts of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has threatened to veto aid and expansion talks at the December 14-15 summit.

All three decisions – as well as a fourth on the EU’s 12th sanctions package against Russia since the invasion began in February 2022 – require the unanimous support of all 27 countries in the bloc.

“We are at a crucial moment,” a senior EU official said, citing a stalemate on the battlefield and the U.S. Congress’s failure to approve President Joe Biden’s $60 billion aid package for Ukraine .

“It is very important that … the European Union shows clear and full support to Ukraine,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This message would not only be for Moscow, it would also be a message for Washington, it would also be a message for Kiev.”

Europe’s own credibility is also at stake, as the bloc had previously vowed to stand by Ukraine for as long as necessary.

“We expect positive decisions,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj on Sunday evening. “Europe must resolutely defend its values ​​and unity.”

What Orbán wants

Orbán is no newcomer to causing a stir in the European Union.

Hungary has eased sanctions against Russia and last December vetoed an agreement that would give Ukraine 18 billion euros in 2023.

After days of haggling over EU aid to Hungary, the aid was finally pushed through because concerns about democratic backsliding under Orbán were blocked.

As the EU tries again to win Orbán’s support for Ukraine, the European Commission’s executive committee is expected to give Budapest access to 10 billion euros this week.

When he spoke out against starting accession negotiations with Kiev, Orbán first complained about Ukraine’s treatment of the Hungarian minority. He has since said Ukraine is too corrupt and unwilling to join the EU.

Instead of deciding on new aid to Ukraine, he called on the bloc to have a “strategic discussion” about its support for Kiev.

Diplomats said corresponding bids by Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to further their hopes of joining the EU – both backed by Orbán – would fail if Hungary vetoes Ukraine.

“We had the feeling that Orbán always knew how far he could go and that he would know exactly when it was time to climb down from the tree,” said a second senior EU diplomat.

Those who expected Orbán to give in described a possible compromise that would delay the start of negotiations with Ukraine on final terms until March. However, others fear that the Hungarian leader may not be convinced this time.

Orbán will face, among others, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has said that Berlin supports starting negotiations on Kiev joining the EU one day.

Financial and military aid

Although Orbán is the loudest critic of greater support for Ukraine, a ruling by Germany’s constitutional court last month further complicated EU talks by blowing a huge hole in the budget of its richest member.

If Hungary vetoes the allocation of 50 billion euros to Ukraine through the bloc’s common budget, the 26 other EU countries could extend their contributions bilaterally to Kiev – a more complicated and expensive route.

There is also uncertainty about the future of EU military aid to Ukraine, where Russia now controls almost a fifth of the territory.

A proposal to use an EU-managed military fund – the European Peace Facility (EPF) – to provide Ukraine with 20 billion euros in arms and other support over the next four years is facing opposition in Germany.

Some EU members are pushing for at least five billion euros to be pledged through the EPF at Ukraine’s summit next year, a plan that EU foreign ministers will discuss with their Ukrainian counterpart on Monday.

Despite the bleak outlook, some Brussels diplomats believe the bloc will avoid the worst-case scenario and keep some of the promises made to Ukraine.

“Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it be extremely difficult? Most likely. Will there ever be blood in the air? Probably,” said a second senior EU official. “But I still think it’s possible to find solutions.”

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