EU summit decides to launch membership talks with Ukraine

European Union leaders unexpectedly agreed on Thursday to open membership talks with Ukraine, something Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for weeks had vowed to block.

EU diplomats and officials said Orban agreed to leave the room, knowing the other leaders would go ahead and vote on Ukraine.

Orban confirmed on Facebook that he had abstained from the vote on what he called a “bad decision”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the decision.

“This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens,” he said.

Ukraine badly needs support from its Western allies in its nearly two-year fight against Moscow’s invasion. Its counter-offensive has failed to make major gains and the Biden administration has so far been unable to get a $60 billion aid package for Kyiv through the U.S. Congress.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was “a strategic decision and a day that will remain engraved in the history of our Union.”

Hungary’s Orban had very different words to describe the decision.

“Hungary’s stance is clear, Ukraine is not prepared for us to start talks on EU membership,” he said, calling the decision to start talks “irrational” and “inappropriate.”

“But 26 member states were adamant that this decision must be made so Hungary decided that if 26 decide so, they should go on their own path and Hungary does not wish to participate in this bad decision,” he said.

European Council President Charles Michel said the European Council had also decided to open accession negotiations with Moldova.

He went on to say the summit granted EU candidate status to Georgia and would also advance an EU bid by another hopeful – Bosnia – once it reaches “the necessary degree of compliance” with criteria.

Earlier in the day as the 27 EU leaders gathered for their last summit of the year, Orban insisted that the EU should not start membership talks with Ukraine.

Orban was a lone hold-out at the summit, taking place at a critical time for Kyiv in its war against Russia’s invasion.

Other EU leaders had warned earlier in the day that not agreeing to start negotiations would have been seen as a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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