Ukraine will receive €50bn (£42bn) in aid for its war-ravaged economy after EU leaders overcame weeks of resistance from Hungary to unanimously agree on a package of support.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the agreement, adding the aid will strengthen his country’s economy as the Russian invasion approaches its second anniversary.
It was a long time coming for the EU, whose leaders wrangled with Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, after he vetoed an aid package in December last year.
Latest as Ukraine claims to have sunk Russian Black Sea warship
Diplomats say they persuaded Mr Orban’s government without committing to release billions of euros in EU funds intended for Hungary. The money was held back over concerns around human rights.
Ukraine, which relies heavily on Western aid, expects to receive the first wave of support worth €4.5bn in March.
“We have a deal. Unity,” said European Council President Charles Michel. “All 27 leaders agreed on an additional €50bn support package for Ukraine within the EU budget.”
The deal includes a yearly discussion of the package and the option to review it in two years “if needed”, but no clear veto for Hungary, which it had suggested as an option.
Mr Orban – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the EU – cast the decision as a victory.
In a video on Facebook, he said the review mechanism attached to the funding package would “guarantee the rational use of the funds” and that money denied to Hungary wouldn’t go to Ukraine.
“We were afraid that the EU money owed to Hungarians which the commission has not given us yet would sooner or later end up in Ukraine,” he said.
“We received a guarantee that Hungary’s money would not be transferred to Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s top general ‘refuses request to step down’
Ukraine and Russia exchange hundreds of prisoners
With an agreement on budget support done, the bloc will turn its attention to discussing military aid for Kyiv, with the EU seen as falling short of its target of sending artillery shells to Ukraine.
A standoff between Germany and other member states also casts uncertainty over the future of a military aid fund that has bankrolled billions of euros in arms for Ukraine.