European Union heads of state will try to persuade Hungary to unblock billions of dollars of EU aid for Ukraine at a crucial EU Council summit in Brussels on Thursday, as Kyiv warns it is running low on ammunition to fight Russia’s invasion.
The bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called for more military support for Kyiv as he spoke to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.
“Ukraine needs more ammunition. There is a big imbalance on the fire capacity from one side and the other, and this gap has to be filled. And this is why this council will take a quite dramatic dimension,” Borrell said.
However, the EU must first overcome internal splits. At the last council summit in December, Hungary vetoed a four-year, $54 billion aid package for Ukraine, arguing the money should not come from the bloc’s budget, as Ukraine is not a member state. All 26 other member states voted in favor of the aid package.
The EU financial assistance is vital for Kyiv, said Luigi Scazzieri with the Centre for European Reform.
“That’s essentially budget support that Ukraine needs to stay in the war and to stay solvent. But it doesn’t aim to increase its military capacity. There is a separate budget line for that — that is also being held up by Hungary — and that will be discussed, as well. And that is a 5 billion [euro] top-up to a common fund that the EU has to supply weapons to Ukraine,” he told VOA.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long been a thorn in the side of EU unity on Russia and has good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Hungary has refused to join sanctions [against Russia] at the beginning. Hungary has refused to send weapons to Ukraine. Hungary refused to give Ukraine candidate status for EU membership until it got the return that it wanted,” noted Liana Fix, a fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
That return included the EU releasing $11 billion of EU funds to Hungary in December that had been frozen over concerns about democratic backsliding in the country. The EU is still withholding a further $24 billion, and Orban will likely demand that some of it is released, according to Fix.
“That is a game that Viktor Orban knows very well how to play. But it’s also a game that both the EU and NATO have adapted to by now, so I would be very surprised if this is not a stumbling block which will be resolved. But it will be resolved with concessions toward Hungary.”
Brussels has threatened to “sabotage” Hungary’s economy unless it drops its veto of the Ukraine aid, according to a report Monday in London’s Financial Times newspaper. Budapest has accused the EU of “blackmail.”
Writing on social media platform X, Hungary’s EU minister János Bóka said Wednesday, “Hungary does not give in to blackmail! The document, drafted by Brussels bureaucrats only confirms what the Hungarian Government has been saying for a long time: access to EU funds is used for political blackmailing by Brussels.”
Meanwhile, European leaders are also set to discuss an EU naval mission to the Red Sea, to protect commercial shipping from attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“The creation of a new navy mission of the European Union to participate in escorting the merchant ships in the Red Sea, facing the attacks by the Houthis, will be decided. I’m sure it will be decided,” Borrell said Wednesday.
Agriculture also will be on the agenda, amid growing protests by farmers across Europe who complain that cheap imports are destroying their incomes. Many of the demonstrators have used tractors to block major roads around European capitals, including Brussels, in the run-up to Thursday’s EU summit.