Espreso. Global

What do Fico and Szijjártó’s visits to Ukraine mean?

22 January, 2024 Monday

On January 24, Slovak Prime Minister Fico will visit Uzhhorod to meet with Ukrainian counterpart Shmyhal, and on January 29, Hungarian Foreign Minister Szijjártó will arrive in Uzhhorod to meet with Ukrainian counterpart Kuleba

The significance and contexts of these visits are quite remarkable, a Telegram channel focused on Ukraine's recovery pointed out.

The last month has been marked by the "deprive Hungary of its right to vote in the EU" campaign. And while Hungary has the backing of its pro-Moscow counterpart Robert Fico, Vikor Orban cannot be sure of his support for a number of reasons:

First, in order to avoid confrontation with other EU leaders during the last summit, Fico abandoned his counterpart Orban and voted in favor of starting negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU.

Second, Slovakia is in an economic crisis. To follow Hungary's lead and have the European Commission freeze funding programs would be a very rash move in Fico's case.

Thirdly, despite harsh pro-Moscow statements (including calls for Ukraine to give up its territory, the futility of supplying weapons to Ukraine, etc.), Fico did not terminate the "defense contracts" with Ukraine, but rather supported them. Why? These are much-needed funds for Slovakia.

Fourth, Fico is currently experiencing constant mass protests against his government, and a spark could lead to events similar to those in Serbia.

Fifth, the EU reform itself. It will not take place in a week or a month, but the European Commission will present its outlines by March of this year. The "friends of Orban" will not be forgotten after the reform, especially if Slovakia becomes extremely problematic for Brussels.

The process of depriving Hungary of its voting rights is being implemented (so far) not so much to actually deprive Hungary of its vote as to use this point for negotiating and putting pressure on Orban.

A week ago, Politico published an article saying that the EU is not going to make too many concessions to Budapest because it has enough mechanisms to resist Hungary's pressure in full. The EU has a plan B to override Hungary's veto for EUR 50 billion and a separate plan for EUR 20 billion in purely military procurement for Ukraine.

After this article and a number of others media reported that Szijjártó was coming to Ukraine. From a diplomatic point of view, the fact that the meeting is taking place on the territory of Ukraine is also important. Even if it is not in Kyiv, it is still in Ukraine. The same goes for Fico.

Another aspect is that it was after the official confirmation of these two visits that both Orban and Fico began to actively make pro-Moscow statements such as "losing the war", "give back the territories", "we will block everything", etc.

But in fact, these two "actors" are playing to their own pro-Moscow audience with their statements and, of course, "playing to Putin's ears," distracting him from the fact of the visit on the one hand, and the negotiating signals between these two and the EU on the other.

It is obvious that the February 1 summit will be difficult in all respects, there will be many provocative statements aimed at distracting, but the combination of factors suggests that the result should be positive for Ukraine.

And the visits of Hungary's and Slovakia's officials are a process of bargaining, because Orban and Fico need to "sell" as many victories and exchanges as possible on the domestic market.

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