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Ukraine has $52 billion EU aid package veoted by Hungary

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It has been a rough news week for Ukraine. In Washington, congressional Republicans are still holding up U.S. aid. And in Brussels, Hungary has blocked the European Union from approving a financial package that would send more than $50 billion to Kyiv. After a week of touring international capitals, pleading for help, Ukraine's president finally came home with only one small victory, though a significant one. Joining us now from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Hi there.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Joanna, let's just start with this money for Ukraine that the European Union failed to approve. Why is Hungary refusing to sign off, and can just one vote really hold everything up?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. In the European Union, all 27 member states must agree on actions before they're authorized. And in this case, the action involved the EU budget, which includes about 50 billion euros in loans and grants to Ukraine over several years. And Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban refused to support it. He is Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest ally in the EU, and Orban told reporters that he does not want Hungarian taxpayers to support a war that he believes Ukraine can't win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER VIKTOR ORBAN: (Through interpreter) We shouldn't send more money to finance the war. We should stop the war and have peace talks. Instead, they want to give money to keep the war going.

KAKISSIS: And by they, he means the other 26 leaders of European Union member nations, most of whom are very vocal supporters of Ukraine and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And when Orban talks about peace talks - he said this before - the implication is that the Ukrainians should just accept the land that they've lost to Russia in this war and just move on.

SUMMERS: Now, the Ukrainians did have one significant victory from the summit. It's that European leaders agreed to open negotiations for the country to join the EU. So why didn't Hungary block this action?

KAKISSIS: So, Juana, it looks like Viktor Orban actually abstained from voting in this case. And according to some news reports, he was actually told to leave the room while the other leaders voted on this. Orban said later in a Facebook video that he doesn't think Ukraine is ready for membership and that he left the room because he didn't want to participate in what he calls a bad decision. Now, Orban has threatened for days that he's going to block this, and Zelenskyy actually tried talking to him earlier this week in Argentina, where they were both attending the new president's inauguration there. The exchange was caught on video, and it looked really testy. So a reporter asked Zelenskyy about it when Zelenskyy was in Oslo a couple of days ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: He has no any reasons to block Ukrainian membership in EU, and I asked him to tell me one reason. I'm waiting for answer.

KAKISSIS: Now, Orban has said that he has actually not given up on blocking those membership talks in the future. He says after all, the Hungarian Parliament, where his party has all the power they must also approve it.

SUMMERS: So, Joanna, what happens next with both these membership talks and also the aid?

KAKISSIS: So, Juana, EU membership negotiations often take years, so it's not like Ukraine is going to join the EU tomorrow. But this was a big symbolic victory for Ukraine. Ukraine has been working very hard on reforming its institutions and fighting corruption in the middle of a war so it can qualify for European Union membership and definitively break from this Russian and Soviet domination that they had in the past. As for the Ukraine aid package, EU leaders say they are going to meet again early next month with the goal of passing it. But at this very moment, Western support - you know, it seems very uncertain. And that's exactly as Russia's President Vladimir Putin predicted.

SUMMERS: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thank you.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.