EU leaders disagree on $55 billion aid package for Ukraine

BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukraine has failed to agree to 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in financial aid that should keep Ukraine afloat, even as the European Union decided Thursday to open accession talks with the war-torn country.

The aid was vetoed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this week dealt US lawmakers another severe blow when they failed to approve an additional $61 billion for Ukraine, mainly arms purchases from the United States.

The start of accession talks is a critical moment and a stunning reversal for a country at war that has struggled to find its footing. Membership Desires and long met with obstinate opposition From Orban.

Hungary’s leader decided not to veto the accession talks, but blocked the aid package.

“I can tell you that 26 leaders have agreed (budget negotiations),” said European Council President Charles Michel. “I have to be very precise. A leader, Sweden, must consult its parliament, which is consistent with the usual practice for this country, and a leader cannot accept.

Resolutions required consensus among EU members.

However, Michel, who chaired the Brussels summit, called the opening of accession talks “a clear signal of confidence to their people and to our continent”.

Although process While the opening negotiations and Ukraine’s eventual membership could take several years, Zelenskyy hailed the deal as “a victory for Ukraine.” A victory for all of Europe.”

“History is made by those who never tire of fighting for freedom,” Zelensky said.

After Orban reviewed the extra money and the EU budget, he was unable to approve the financial package. Ukraine is badly counting on funds to help its battered economy survive the coming year.

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Michael said leaders will meet again in January to try to break the impasse.

Orban had warned before the summit that pushing for a resolution on the Ukraine issue would destroy EU unity. Enlargement of the EU and a review of its long-term budget, which includes 50 billion euros ($54.1 billion) in aid to the Kyiv government, must be unanimous among all 27 member states.

Orban threatened to veto the opening of accession talks, but eventually backed down.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Groove said the opening of membership discussions was a black eye for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is a clear message to Moscow. We are Europeans and we will not leave Ukraine,” he said.

Orban said his opposition was firm, but said the other 26 countries had decided not to use his veto. Arguing very strongly in favor of Under EU rules, a referendum does not prevent a decision from being adopted.

An EU official, who insisted he not be quoted by name because the summit talks were private, said Orban “was not in the room for a while in a previously agreed and constructive way” when the decision was made.

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

“Hungary’s perspective is clear: Ukraine is not ready to start negotiations on its EU membership. This is a completely unfair, irrational and improper decision,” he said.

Others applauded Orban’s gesture. They had an extra day to prepare for the summit on Saturday.

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

“In fairness to Prime Minister Orbán, he made his case and made it very strongly. He disagreed with the decision, and he didn’t change his opinion in that sense, but basically decided not to use the veto power,” Varadkar said.

“I respect the fact that he hasn’t done that because that would have put us in a very difficult position as an EU,” the Irish leader added.

Belgium’s de Groove took a slightly different view, saying he thought Orban “didn’t use his veto because he realized it would be unsafe.”

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

In the United States, National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan welcomed “the European Union’s historic decision to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova as an important step towards fulfilling their Euro-Atlantic ambitions”.

In Kiev, the news was met with cautious optimism.

“We are Europe. Ukraine is Europe, the center of Europe. I want us to be granted the status of a proud member of Europe,” said Olha Paratowska, a 70-year-old Kyiv resident.

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

EU leaders had hoped the summit would take at least until late Friday to make any progress, so the unexpected announcement came as Orban did not block action by his colleagues.

“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,” said a beaming Michel, unannounced in the summit’s media room.

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He said talks would begin before presenting a report to leaders in March.

Zelensky was surprised at a critical moment, straight up A trip to Washington this week There his pleas for more help from the US Congress fell on deaf ears. The President of Ukraine expects a better response in Brussels.

“It’s just as important that Ukraine has the means to continue the war and rebuild its country,” De Crewe said.

The rush to find a solution is only matched by a possible blow to the EU’s credibility, the Ukrainian president told leaders gathered in Brussels in a video address.

“No one wants to see Europe as being unreliable, or that it has prepared itself for not being able to make decisions,” he said.

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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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