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Ukraine war: EU announces US$54 billion aid deal for Kyiv’s fight against Russia, despite Hungary’s veto threat

In World
February 01, 2024

The abrupt about-face from Orban on the vitally needed four-year funding package for Kyiv came as after EU leaders offered a possible review of the spending in two years.

“EU Member States one more time show their solidarity and unity in the actions to Ukrainian people to withstand the war,” wrote Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denis Shmygal.

“Each of your votes is a significant contribution to our joint victory.”

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky was appreciative of the new funding.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the new aid deal shows strong EU unity. Photo: Dario Pignatelli/European Council/dpa/File

“Grateful to Charles Michel and EU leaders for establishing the €50 billion Ukraine Facility for 2024-2027. It is very important that the decision was made by all 27 leaders, which once again proves strong EU unity.

Continued EU financial support for Ukraine will strengthen long-term economic and financial stability, which is no less important than military assistance and sanctions pressure on Russia.”

As doubts swirl over future support from Ukraine’s other major ally, the United States, the EU deal is a major boost for Kyiv as Russia’s war nears the start of its third year.

The money will plug holes in the Ukrainian government’s budget to allow it to pay salaries and services, as its outgunned soldiers battle to hold back Moscow’s forces.

Orban – Russia’s closest ally in the EU – sparked fury from his 26 counterparts in the bloc by thwarting a December deal on the aid.

The Hungarian nationalist was accused of holding Ukraine’s future hostage in a bid to blackmail Brussels into releasing billions of euros in frozen EU funds for Budapest.

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The second round in Brussels on Thursday was expected to see hours of protracted political arm-wrestling but a deal was announced swiftly after Orban met first with the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and the EU institutions.

That came after a stream of other EU leaders had piled into Orban for once-again disrupting the bloc.

“We don’t have a problem with so-called Ukraine fatigue for sure, we have Orban fatigue now in Brussels,” said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“It’s for Viktor Orban to decide if he is a part of our community.

The other leaders had said if Orban did not drop his opposition, they would club together as 26 to keep aid flowing for Ukraine’s government.

But with Kyiv facing possible budget shortfalls by spring, that option would have taken more time.

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Mounting frustration at Hungary’s role as spoiler also seen calls grow for other leaders to unleash the EU’s Article 7 and strip Budapest of its voting rights.

That would take unanimity from all other 26 leaders and few have been willing to push publicly for this “nuclear option” just yet.

The latest EU showdown took place against the backdrop of swelling protests by European farmers, who clogged roads around the summit with 1,300 tractors in a show of strength, lighting fires and pulling down a city statue.

The major leverage for Brussels over Hungary is around 20 billion euros (US$21.7 billion) in frozen EU funds that it refuses to give Budapest because of its poor record on issues including corruption and LGBTQ rights.

In December, Orban allowed through a decision to open membership talks with Kyiv, a day after getting a separate 10 billion euros released from Brussels.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban thwarted an aid package for Ukraine in December. Photo: AFP

And there were strong suspicions that he was playing the same game of chicken again to try to get more money, even if Brussels insisted the two issues were not linked.

While the focus in the room was Orban, outside the nearby European Parliament angry farmers burnt tyres as they did their best to make sure their grievances were heard.

The latest EU showdown took place against the backdrop of swelling protests by European farmers, who clogged roads around the summit with 1,300 tractors in a show of strength, lighting fires and pulling down a city statue.

“We need to be able to discuss in the council on this topic because the concerns that they have are partly legitimate,” said Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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