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BRUSSELS: EU leaders expressed concern on Thursday over rumors that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – who heads the EU presidency – was set to travel to Moscow, with Council President Charles Michel saying he had “no mandate” to do so.

Orbán is the only EU leader who maintained close ties with the Kremlin after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

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

“The rotating EU presidency has no mandate to negotiate 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 discussions about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine,” he added.

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

According to investigative portal Vsquare and media outlet RFE/RL, which cited anonymous sources, Orbán is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, just a few days after his trip to Kyiv.

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

Orbán “did not inform about any trip to Moscow,” the official said, adding that if the Hungarian prime minister asked him, “President Michel would strongly advise against such a visit.”

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

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

But on Monday, Orban said there would be “surprising news from surprising places”.

Orban and Putin last met in October 2023 in Beijing, where they discussed energy cooperation.

The Hungarian leader met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Tuesday.

During the visit, Orbán urged Ukraine to pursue a “time-limited” ceasefire with Russia in order to speed up peace talks.

Instead, Zelenskyi called on Orbán to support Kyiv’s efforts to achieve peace in conjunction with international partners.

Orbán has repeatedly sought to ease EU sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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

He has also openly opposed holding EU membership talks with Kyiv, as well as Brussels’ sanctions against Moscow – although Budapest has not used its veto to block those moves.

Earlier this year, Orbán congratulated Putin on his re-election victory in a vote condemned by the West.

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

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