European Union leaders failed to agree on a $55 billion aid package for Ukraine

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union failed to agree Thursday on a 50 billion euro ($54 billion) package of financial aid that Ukraine desperately needs to stay afloat, even as the bloc decided to open accession negotiations with the war-torn country.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vetoed the aid, dealing another severe blow to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after he failed this week to persuade U.S. lawmakers to approve an additional $61 billion for Ukraine, mainly to buy weapons from the United States. .

The start of accession talks was a momentous moment and a stunning reflection for a country at war that had been struggling to gain support for its accession to the European Union. Membership aspirations He faced stubborn opposition for a long time From Urban.

The Hungarian leader decided not to veto the accession talks, but then blocked the aid package.

European Council President Charles Michel said: “I can inform you that 26 leaders agreed to (negotiate the budget).” “I have to be very precise. One leader, Sweden, needs to consult his parliament, which is in line with the usual procedure for this country, and one leader has not been able to agree.

Decisions require consensus among EU members.

However, Michel, who was chairing the Brussels summit, described the start of accession talks as “a clear signal of hope for their people and for our continent.”

despite of the operation Between the start of negotiations and Ukraine finally becoming a member could take many years, Zelensky welcomed the agreement as a “victory for Ukraine.” “It is a victory for all of Europe.”

“History is made by those who do not tire of fighting for freedom,” Zelensky said.

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The financial package could not be approved after Orban vetoed additional funds and a review of the EU budget. Ukraine is relying heavily on funds to help its damaged economy survive next year.

Michel said the leaders would meet again in January to try to break the impasse.

Orban warned before the summit that imposing a resolution on Ukrainian issues could destroy the unity of the European Union. Decisions on EU enlargement and a review of its long-term budget, which includes 50 billion euros ($54.1 billion) in aid to Kiev’s government, must be unanimous among all 27 member states.

Orban also threatened to veto the start of accession talks but eventually backed down.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo described the opening of membership discussions as a black eye for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He added: “It is a very clear message to Moscow. We, the Europeans, will not abandon Ukraine.

Orban said his opposition remained firm, but he decided not to use his veto because the other 26 countries were He argues forcefully Favor. Under EU rules, abstention does not prevent the resolution from being adopted.

An EU official, who insisted on remaining anonymous because the summit negotiations were private, said Orban was “temporarily absent from the room in a constructive and pre-agreed way” when the decision was made.

Orban said he stepped down because all of his counterparts were committed to putting Ukraine on a path to EU membership, although their position did not change his mind.

“Hungary’s point of view is clear: Ukraine is not ready for us to start negotiations on its membership in the European Union. It is an illogical, irrational and completely inappropriate decision,” he said.

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Others praised Orban’s gesture. They were preparing to extend the summit to an additional day on Saturday.

“Certainly faster than any of us expected,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

He added: “In fairness to Prime Minister Orban, he has made his case very forcefully. “He does not agree with this decision and does not change his mind in that sense, but he has basically decided not to use his veto,” Varadkar said.

The Irish leader added: “I respect the fact that he did not do that, because that would have put us in a very difficult position as an European Union.”

De Croo, a Belgian, had a slightly different view, saying he believed Orban “did not use his veto because he realized it was untenable.”

At the same time with Ukraine, EU leaders also decided to open membership negotiations with it Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova.

In the United States, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan welcomed “the historic decision taken by the European Union to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, which is a decisive step towards achieving their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”

In Kiev, this news was met with cautious optimism.

“We are Europe. Ukraine is Europe, the center of Europe. I want us to have the status of a proud member of Europe,” said Olha Baradovska, 70, a Kiev resident.

Ivan Olegko, 19, said the decision to start accession talks was long overdue. “If things go well, I will be happy, but we don’t know what will happen next,” he said.

EU leaders had expected the summit to last until at least late Friday before any kind of breakthrough could be reached, so the fateful announcement came completely unexpectedly after Orban was not blocked by his colleagues.

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A beaming Michel descended into the media room for the summit at an unspecified time and said: “This is a historic moment, and it shows the credibility of the European Union. The strength of the European Union. The decision has been made.”

He added that negotiations would begin before submitting a report to leaders in March.

The surprise came at a difficult time for Zelensky This week’s trip to Washington His pleas for more help from the US Congress fell on deaf ears. The Ukrainian president was looking for a better response in Brussels.

“It is equally important that Ukraine has the means to continue the war and rebuild its country,” De Croo said.

The Ukrainian president said in a video speech to the leaders gathered in Brussels that the urgent need to find a solution is matched only by a potential blow to the credibility of the European Union.

No one wants Europe to be seen as untrustworthy. Or because he is unable to make decisions, he has prepared himself.”

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Associated Press writers Vasilisa Stepanenko in Kyiv, Lorne Cook in Brussels and Justin Spike in Budapest contributed to this report.

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