Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said opening European Union accession negotiations with Ukraine is not currently in Budapest's interest and that the 27-member bloc should opt instead for a "strategic partnership" with the war-wracked country.
In a progress report last month, the European Commission -- the bloc's executive body -- recommended opening EU accession negotiations with Ukraine once it meets the required conditions after gaining candidate status together with much smaller Moldova in June last year.
Orban, a right-wing populist who has maintained warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has long been at odds with the EU over rule-of-law and corruption concerns and has seen the bloc freeze 22 billion euros ($24 billion) in cohesion funds for Hungary until it introduces judicial and human rights reforms.
In his weekly interview with Hungarian state radio on December 1, Orban said opening membership talks with Kyiv does not coincide with Hungary's interests and we "dare say it, no matter how much pressure they put on us," in an apparent reference to alleged interference from Brussels.
"I would favor the EU reaching a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine first," Orban said, adding that such a partnership could take up to 10 years until Ukraine could adapt to the EU's requirements.
"When we see that we can cooperate, then let's bring up the issue of membership again, but that will be possible only after many, many years," he said.
"Europe has economic problems but in the meantime throws money away -- it sends wagonloads of weapons and money to Ukraine," Orban said.
Orban and his government have repeatedly spoken against the bloc's giving military aid to Ukraine to fight Russia's unprovoked aggression, arguing without evidence that such aid would only prolong the war.
The EU will hold a summit on December 14-15.
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