Hungary's Orban to head to Moscow to meet with Putin

Russian President Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Orban meet in Beijing

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, Radio Free Europe and the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as neither confirming nor denying the visit. State news agency RIA cited Peskov as saying that Putin had a "busy schedule" on Friday, about which the Kremlin would inform reporters later.

It would be the first time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine that Putin and Orban have met inside Russia. Orban, who has maintained a closer relationship to Moscow than other EU leaders since the invasion, visited Russia in 2022 without meeting Putin, and has met him in other countries.

From the start of this month, Hungary has taken over the rotating Presidency of the European Union, a largely ceremonial role tasked with agenda-setting and brokering agreements in legislative affairs.

Hungary's government did not reply to e-mailed questions.

Earlier this week, Orban visited Kyiv where he urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to consider a ceasefire to accelerate an end to the war with Russia.

"The EU rotating presidency has no mandate to engage with Russia on behalf of the EU," Charles Michel, the president of the council of European Union leaders said on social media platform X reacting to Orban's visit to Moscow.

"No discussions about Ukraine can take place without Ukraine," he added.

Hungary, a member of the EU and NATO, has refused to send weapons to Ukraine and vocally criticized EU sanctions against Russia, while stopping short of using its veto power to block them.

While countries in western Europe have made serious efforts to wean themselves off Russian gas since Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, landlocked Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia.

It signaled in June that it had no plans to abandon natural gas imports from Russia and sought to deepen business ties with Moscow in non-sanctioned areas.

(Reporting by Boldizsar Gyori in Budapest and Felix Light in Tbilisi; Editing by Peter Graff)