Opposition from Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary had been the primary obstacle to a deal to create a 50-billion-euro fund to support Ukraine in its protracted war against Russia. But that all changed on Thursday when Mr. Orban, the closest ally in the European Union of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, reversed his position.
Until Mr. Orban changed his mind, talks had stalled and other European leaders were becoming increasingly frustrated.
It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Mr. Orban received in exchange for agreeing to the fund.
What was decided?
The fund is worth €50 billion, about $54 billion, and aims to support Ukraine through the end of 2027.
Ukraine is facing one of is most difficult moments since Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly two years ago, with U.S. aid held up and virtually no progress on the battlefield.
Under the agreement reached on Thursday, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, will draft an annual report on how the Ukraine fund is being used, and E.U. leaders will be able to debate and raise any concerns they might have about it.
For the fund to be approved, a simple majority of the European Parliament needs to vote in favor, a bar that should be easily cleared. That vote could take place this month.
Kyiv urgently needs cash to keep basic services running. The E.U. aid, to be dispensed in the form of loans and grants, will both cover Ukraine’s immediate needs and allow the country to plan a long-term budget.
For the European Union, the stakes were also high. If leaders had failed to agree on long-term support, it could have undermined the bloc’s credibility and signaled a definitive rupture over Ukraine. Such a split would also have reinforced Hungary’s isolation in the union.
Why was Hungary blocking the deal?
Mr. Orban has watered down or held up most E.U. decisions linked to Ukraine, including sanctions against Russia, which require the unanimous backing of all 27 member countries.
The closest — and perhaps now only — ally of Mr. Putin in the European Union, Mr. Orban says he believes Russia is not a threat to Europe. He also insists that his country’s foreign policy is his own prerogative and says that he will not be strong-armed into policies he does not agree with.
Before the meeting on Thursday, Mr. Orban had been saying that he would only agree to financial support for Ukraine if disbursements were authorized annually by unanimity, effectively giving him a right of veto.
Some commentators say that Mr. Orban was simply angling to extend his power. The goal, according to that line of reasoning, is to use Hungary’s veto as leverage to unfreeze billions of euros in E.U. funding held up over Budapest’s breaches of bloc rules.
Why is the E.U.-Hungary relationship so bad?
The European Union and Hungary have long clashed over policies on the rule of law, corruption and minority rights, but their relationship has hit rock bottom since the outbreak of war in Ukraine two years ago.
The European Commission, which enforces the application of E.U. rules, believes that Mr. Orban’s policies at home have eroded democratic protections and that he has diverted bloc funds to benefit himself and his allies. It has punished Hungary by freezing money the country would normally be getting — and desperately needs — from the European Union.
Mr. Orban and his officials reject the criticisms and say that the bloc is trying to impose liberal Western values on Hungary that run counter to his vision of his nation’s conservative Christian identity.
How did the E.U. change Mr. Orban’s mind?
Mr. Orban does not seem to have succeeded in gaining access to more European funding.
Late last year, the European Commission concluded that Hungary had put in place judicial reforms, and unfroze €10 billion. But it said it would continue withholding another €20 billion, because other issues remained unresolved. While E.U. officials said that the timing of that decision was coincidental, it came just before leaders officially opened talks that could lead to membership in the bloc for Ukraine.
The events on Thursday unfolded differently, and officials said that the only concession would be a vague call at the end of the summit for the European Commission to be “proportionate” in the way it freezes money for member states punished for violations, as is the case with Hungary.