Russia-Ukraine war: Russian strikes risked ‘nuclear catastrophe’, says Ukraine energy chief; Moscow says 50 PoWs freed – live

From 3h ago

Russian attacks risked ‘nuclear and radioactive catastrophe’, Ukraine energy chief says

Russia risked causing a “nuclear and radioactive catastrophe” by launching attacks in which all Ukraine’s nuclear power plants were disconnected from the power grid for the first time in 40 years, Ukraine’s nuclear energy chief has said.

Reuters reports that Petro Kotin, head of nuclear power company Energoatom, said the vast nuclear power station in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine, which has been out of commission since September, had also been disconnected from the grid on Wednesday and became reliant on backup diesel generators.

He added that the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since soon after Russia invaded Ukraine nine months ago, had been reconnected to the grid by Thursday morning and that the backup generators were turned off.

He said in a written statement:

There is a real danger of a nuclear and radiation catastrophe being caused by firing on the entire territory of Ukraine with Russian cruise and ballistic missiles, and a huge risk of damage to nuclear plants.

Russia must answer for this shameful crime.

Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday that three nuclear power plants on territory held by Ukrainian forces had been switched off after the latest wave of Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities.

Each side has blamed the other for shelling of the Zaporizhzhia plant complex.

Updated at 08.33 EST

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Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that Hungary’s parliament will ratify Nato membership for Finland and Sweden early next year.

Orban told a briefing after a meeting of the Visegrad Group in Slovakia that his government had already decided that Hungary would support Finland’s and Sweden’s Nato accession and that the country’s parliament would set this item on its agenda at its first session next year.

Hungary and Turkey are the only members of the alliance who have not yet cleared the accession.

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Russia’s defence ministry has announced that Ukraine has released 50 Russian soldiers who had been captured, in the latest prisoner exchange between the two sides.

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Earlier today, the Russian-installed head of Ukraine’s Donetsk region said Russia would also release 50 captured Ukrainians.

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Russia risked causing a “nuclear and radioactive catastrophe” by launching attacks in which all Ukraine’s nuclear power plants were disconnected from the power grid for the first time in 40 years, Ukraine’s nuclear energy chief has said.

Reuters reports that Petro Kotin, head of nuclear power company Energoatom, said the vast nuclear power station in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine, which has been out of commission since September, had also been disconnected from the grid on Wednesday and became reliant on backup diesel generators.

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He added that the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since soon after Russia invaded Ukraine nine months ago, had been reconnected to the grid by Thursday morning and that the backup generators were turned off.

He said in a written statement:

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There is a real danger of a nuclear and radiation catastrophe being caused by firing on the entire territory of Ukraine with Russian cruise and ballistic missiles, and a huge risk of damage to nuclear plants.

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Russia must answer for this shameful crime.

\n

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Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday that three nuclear power plants on territory held by Ukrainian forces had been switched off after the latest wave of Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities.

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Each side has blamed the other for shelling of the Zaporizhzhia plant complex.

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A snap from Reuters suggests that Russia and Ukraine will each exchange 50 prisoners of war today, according to the Russian-installed leader in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, who posted on the Telegram messaging service.

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More details to follow.

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The time in Kyiv is 1pm. Here is a round-up of the day’s headlines so far:

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    \n

  • Ukraine expects three nuclear power plants that were switched off because of Russian missile strikes on Wednesday will be operating again by Thursday evening, energy minister German Galushchenko said. “We expect that by evening the nuclear power plants will start working, providing energy to the network, and this will significantly reduce the [energy] deficit,” he said in comments broadcast on national television.

  • \n

  • More than two-thirds of the Ukrainian capital was still without power on Thursday morning and a number of residents had no running water, a day after Russian missile strikes caused Kyiv’s biggest outages in nine months of war. The capital was one of the main targets of the latest wave of attacks on energy facilities that cut power in many regions and made emergency blackouts necessary in others to conserve energy and enable repairs as winter sets in.

  • \n

  • Representatives from Russia and Ukraine met in the United Arab Emirates last week to discuss the possibility of a prisoner-of-war swap, according to a Reuters report. Any swap would be linked to a resumption of Russian ammonia exports, which go to Asia and Africa, via a Ukrainian pipeline, three sources with knowledge of the meeting told the news agency.

  • \n

  • Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, has said contacts with the UN nuclear watchdog over safety at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine were “constructive” and showed some promise. The Zaporizhzhia plant, which Russia seized shortly after its invasion, was again rocked by shelling last weekend, prompting renewed calls from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to create a protection zone around it to prevent a nuclear disaster.

  • \n

  • Russia is not planning contact with the United States and did not initiate contact with Washington at the G20 summit in Indonesia, the deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on Thursday. He added that contacts with Washington happen over the phone but take place through diplomatic channels and not at a presidential level.

  • \n

  • Ground battles continue to rage in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is pressing an offensive along a stretch of frontline west of the city of Donetsk, which has been held by its proxies since 2014, Reuters reports. Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces tried again to make advances on their main targets in the Donetsk region – Bakhmut and Avdiivka. Russian forces shelled both areas and used incendiary devices to set Ukrainian positions ablaze with only limited success, the general staff said.

  • \n

  • Russia’s federal security service (FSB) claimed it has prevented Ukrainian special services from carrying out what it said was sabotage on the “South Stream” gas pipeline, Russian news agencies reported. The pipeline was a project intended to transport Russian gas through the Black Sea to Bulgaria, although was later cancelled in favour of TurkStream.

  • \n

  • Polish leaders say that an air defence system which Germany offered Poland would be best given to Ukraine to help it protect itself against Russian strikes. Germany said earlier this week that it has offered Warsaw Eurofighter planes and Patriot defence systems to help defend Poland’s airspace after two men were killed when an apparently stray Ukrainian defence projectile fell in Poland near the border with Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

  • \n

  • Hungary will provide €187m ($195m) in financial aid to Ukraine as its contribution to a planned EU support package worth up to €18bn in 2023, according to a government decree. Prime minister Viktor Orbán’s government has said it was willing to pay its share of support for Ukraine but would rather pay it bilaterally than through the EU’s joint borrowing, Reuters reported.

  • \n

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the United Nations security council to act against Russia over air strikes on civilian infrastructure that have again plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in. Russia unleashed a missile barrage across Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 10 people, forcing shutdowns of nuclear power plants and cutting water and electricity supply in many places.

  • \n

  • Neighbouring Moldova said it was suffering massive blackouts caused by the missile barrage and its EU-friendly president, Maia Sandu, accused Russia of leaving her country “in the dark”.

  • \n

  • European Union governments failed to reach a deal on Wednesday on the level at which to cap prices for Russian sea-borne oil under the G7 scheme and will resume talks, EU diplomats said. Earlier on Thursday, EU representatives met in Brussels. The move is part of sanctions intended to slash Moscow’s revenue from its oil exports so it has less money to finance the invasion of Ukraine.

  • \n

  • The resignation of Russia’s ambassador to Unesco will end the deadlock in a key group he chaired that is charged with preserving cultural sites around the world, a diplomatic source told AFP. The World Heritage Committee, responsible for adding properties to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, had been unable to function for months after the international backlash against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • \n

  • Ukraine’s military said Russian forces had fired about 70 cruise missiles at targets across the country and also deployed attack drones. The strikes killed 10 people and disconnected three nuclear power stations from the grid, officials said.

  • \n

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That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for now. My colleague Rachel Hall will be along shortly to continue bringing you all the latest news from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

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The European Union is pressing ahead with a ninth sanctions package on Russia in response to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, the European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, said during a visit to Finland.

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“We are working hard to hit Russia where it hurts to blunt even further its capacity to wage war on Ukraine and I can announce today that we are working full speed on a 9th sanctions package,” von der Leyen told a news conference.

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“And I’m confident that we will very soon approve a global price cap on Russian oil with the G7 and other major partners. We will not rest until Ukraine has prevailed over Putin and his unlawful and barbaric war,” she said.

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Representatives from Russia and Ukraine met in the United Arab Emirates last week to discuss the possibility of a prisoner-of-war swap, according to a Reuters report.

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Any swap would be linked to a resumption of Russian ammonia exports, which go to Asia and Africa, via a Ukrainian pipeline, three sources with knowledge of the meeting told the news agency.

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Reuters reported:

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The sources said the talks were being mediated by the Gulf Arab state and did not include the United Nations despite the UN’s central role in negotiating the ongoing initiative to export agricultural products from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Ammonia is used to make fertiliser.

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However, the talks aim to remove remaining obstacles in the initiative extended last week and ease global food shortages by unblocking Ukrainian and Russian exports, they added. The sources asked not to be named in order to freely discuss sensitive matters.

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The Russian and Ukrainian representatives travelled to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on 17 November where they discussed allowing Russia to resume ammonia exports in exchange for a prisoner swap that would release a large number of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners, the sources said.

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Reuters could not immediately establish what progress was made at the talks.

\n

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The resignation of Russia’s ambassador to Unesco will end the deadlock in a key group he chaired that is charged with preserving cultural sites around the world, a diplomatic source told AFP.

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The World Heritage Committee, responsible for adding properties to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, had been unable to function for months after the international backlash against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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“I have the honor to inform you of the end of my mission as permanent delegate of the Russian Federation to Unesco,” Russian ambassador Alexander Kuznetsov said on Tuesday in a letter to the members of the World Heritage Committee obtained by AFP.

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The resignation will allow the committee to “quickly appoint a new president” and resume its activities, a UN diplomat told AFP. Russia’s position as chair of the committee had sparked an outcry among other members following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

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The committee had been due to meet in June in the Russian city of Kazan, but 46 countries, including France and the UK, boycotted the event. The meeting was supposed to update the landscapes, monuments and cities included in the body’s list of heritage sites.

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Unesco regulations dictate that replacements for a resigning committee chair are to be appointed by the country that follows in alphabetical order in English.

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Hello, my name is Helen Sullivan and you’re reading the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

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On Wednesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the United Nations Security Council to act against Russia over air strikes on civilian infrastructure that again plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in.

Russia unleashed a missile barrage across Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 10 people, forcing shutdowns of nuclear power plants and cutting water and electricity supply in many places.

“Today is just one day, but we have received 70 missiles. That’s the Russian formula of terror. This is all against our energy infrastructure… Hospitals, schools, transport, residential districts all suffered,” Zelenskiy said via video link to the council chamber.

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At least 10 people were killed in the strikes, Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said, including a two-day-old infant.

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    \n

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the United Nations security council to act against Russia over air strikes on civilian infrastructure that have again plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in. Russia unleashed a missile barrage across Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 10 people, forcing shutdowns of nuclear power plants and cutting water and electricity supply in many places.

  • \n

  • Neighbouring Moldova said it was suffering massive blackouts caused by the missile barrage and its EU-friendly president, Maia Sandu, accused Russia of leaving her country “in the dark”.

  • \n

  • European Union governments failed to reach a deal on Wednesday on the level at which to cap prices for Russian sea-borne oil under the G7 scheme and will resume talks, EU diplomats said. Earlier on Thursday, EU representatives met in Brussels. The move is part of sanctions intended to slash Moscow’s revenue from its oil exports so it has less money to finance the invasion of Ukraine.

  • \n

  • UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN security council on Wednesday that an exchange of 35 Russian and 36 Ukrainian prisoners was a positive development amid the “dark news” of Russian strikes on Ukraine. DiCarlo encouraged the parties to continue prisoner releases and follow international humanitarian law in relation to prisoners of war, Reuters reports.

  • \n

  • A Russian court on Wednesday extended by six months the detention of opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who risks being jailed for 10 years for denouncing president Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine. The 39-year-old Moscow city councillor is in the dock as part of an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in Russia, with most opposition activists either in jail or in exile. He faces up to 10 years behind bars, if convicted.

  • \n

  • The Kremlin said on Wednesday it had faith in the “success” of its offensive in Ukraine. “The future and the success of the special operation are beyond doubt,” the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said on a visit to Armenia, using the official Moscow term to describe Russia’s assault, Agence France-Presse reports.

  • \n

  • European cities were urged to send spare generators to Ukraine to help the country through the winter in the face of Russia’s attacks on electricity infrastructure. Ukraine’s power grid came under bombardment again as the European parliament president, Roberta Metsola, launched an appeal to get generators to Ukraine.

  • \n

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Key events

The first reactor of Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi nuclear plant has been reconnected to the country’s power grid, regional governor Serhiy Hamaliy said.

The Khmelnytskyi plant disconnected from Ukraine’s grid on Wednesday after Russian strikes on the country’s power system, Ukrainian officials said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Transneft said that pumping of oil through the Ukrainian section of the Druzhba pipeline had resumed at 6pm Moscow time, the TASS news agency reported, citing a company spokesperson.

Updated at 11.09 EST

Hungary’s leader confirms support for Sweden and Finland’s Nato membership

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that Hungary’s parliament will ratify Nato membership for Finland and Sweden early next year.

Orban told a briefing after a meeting of the Visegrad Group in Slovakia that his government had already decided that Hungary would support Finland’s and Sweden’s Nato accession and that the country’s parliament would set this item on its agenda at its first session next year.

Hungary and Turkey are the only members of the alliance who have not yet cleared the accession.

US President Joe Biden has confirmed that a price cap on Russian oil being proposed by the United States and its western allies is “in play”, adding that he had spoken to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the issue.

He made his comments to reporters during a Thanksgiving holiday visit to a fire station on Nantucket Island.

Reuters has the full detail on the prisoner of war swaps:

Russia and Ukraine have carried out the latest in a series of prisoner of war exchanges, with both sides handing over 50 people, officials in Kyiv and Moscow have confirmed.

Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine had released 50 Russian soldiers who had been captured.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said on Telegram that Ukraine received 48 soldiers and two officers, among them marines, infantrymen, border guards and members of the territorial defence.

He said:

We have managed to bring back 19 defenders of Mariupol … as well as 15 prisoners (of war) from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and seven from Zmiiny Island.

Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-backed head of the part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region that is under Russian control, said earlier that a prisoner swap with Kyiv was taking place, involving 50 prisoners on each side.

Kyiv and Moscow have so far swapped over 1,000 prisoners of war since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine in February.

The Ukraine Solidarity Project, a group of European and Ukrainian activists who target brands with ties to Russia, has unfurled a 400m2 banner outside energy drink company Red Bull’s headquarters in Salzburg depicting Vladimir Putin riding the company’s famous bull logo.

The banner reads “Red Bull gives Putin wings” in reference to the company’s decision not to pull its products from Russian supermarkets.

Red Bull was given a failing D grade by the Yale School of Management’s Russia business policy ranking for having postponed future planned investment and marketing while continuing “substantive business” in Russia.

The Ukraine Solidarity Project said:

It really matters that Red Bull is still on sale in Russia. It’s one of the world’s biggest brands and its decision to stick with Putin’s Russia is highly significant. Companies that sell their products there are paying taxes to the Kremlin and signalling that they’re comfortable with the illegal invasion of Ukraine. They need to pull out. As things stand, Red Bull gives Putin wings.

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BREAKING: @RedBull doesn’t want anyone talking about how they’re still operating in Putin’s Russia (other companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have pulled their drinks). So we came to their HQ in Austria to launch a new, honest Red Bull advertising campaign for them 😉 pic.twitter.com/D31fgfMZv9

&mdash; Ukraine Solidarity Project (@SolidarityUKR) November 24, 2022

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BREAKING: @RedBull doesn’t want anyone talking about how they’re still operating in Putin’s Russia (other companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have pulled their drinks). So we came to their HQ in Austria to launch a new, honest Red Bull advertising campaign for them 😉 pic.twitter.com/D31fgfMZv9

— Ukraine Solidarity Project (@SolidarityUKR) November 24, 2022

Updated at 10.14 EST

Russia says 50 PoWs freed by Ukraine in prisoner exchange

Russia’s defence ministry has announced that Ukraine has released 50 Russian soldiers who had been captured, in the latest prisoner exchange between the two sides.

Earlier today, the Russian-installed head of Ukraine’s Donetsk region said Russia would also release 50 captured Ukrainians.

Updated at 10.00 EST

Romania is willing to continue supplying neighbouring Moldova with electricity as Russian shelling in Ukraine hits its energy supply, but insufficient interconnections are a challenge, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis has said.

“Up until now we have delivered everything we were asked for,” Iohannis told reporters after meeting Lithuania’s president in Vilnius. “But outages happen because … Romanian-Moldovan interconnections are completely insufficient. Most of the power Romania is offering passes through Ukraine.”

Romanian power producers started selling electricity to Moldova at a capped price in October, Reuters reported.

Romania’s foreign minister, Bogdan Aurescu, said earlier this week the EU state was providing between 80% and 90% of Moldova’s electricity needs.

Updated at 09.59 EST

Foreign ministers from the G7 will discuss how to further support Ukraine in ensuring its energy supply during a meeting in Bucharest next week, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said.

“Russia’s attacks on civilian infrastructure are an intolerable, inhumane crime. Putin may plunge the people of Ukraine into cold and darkness with his missiles. He will never break their will for freedom and our support,” she added.

A meeting of Nato foreign ministers is scheduled to take place in Bucharest on Tuesday and Wednesday, Reuters reported.

A G7 foreign ministers meeting held in Germany earlier this month on Baerbock’s initiative focused on how to support Ukraine through the winter in the face of Russian attacks on its power grid.

Ukrainian cities were plunged into darkness this week after a barrage of Russian missiles triggered one of the worst nationwide power outages of the war yet.

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Russlands Angriffe auf zivile Infrastruktur sind ein unerträgliches, unmenschliches Verbrechen. Putin mag die Menschen in der #Ukraine mit seinen Raketen in Kälte und Dunkelheit stürzen. Ihren Willen nach Freiheit und unsere Unterstützung wird er niemals brechen. 1/2

&mdash; Außenministerin Annalena Baerbock (@ABaerbock) November 24, 2022

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Russlands Angriffe auf zivile Infrastruktur sind ein unerträgliches, unmenschliches Verbrechen. Putin mag die Menschen in der #Ukraine mit seinen Raketen in Kälte und Dunkelheit stürzen. Ihren Willen nach Freiheit und unsere Unterstützung wird er niemals brechen. 1/2

— Außenministerin Annalena Baerbock (@ABaerbock) November 24, 2022

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel said she had aimed to convene European talks with Vladimir Putin the year before his invasion of Ukraine but in the end did not see any possibility of influencing the Russian president at the end of her term.

Merkel told the Spiegel news magazine in an interview published on Thursday that she and French president Emmanuel Macron had planned to hold an independent talk format with Putin within the European Council in 2021, her last summer in office.

“But I no longer had the strength to push through because, after all, everyone knew: she’s leaving in autumn,” she said.

Merkel, who retired from politics after 16 years in power following Germany’s September 2021 election, officially handed over the reins to Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats in December that year, Reuters reported. US president Joe Biden met the Russian leader in June 2021.

Referring to her farewell visit to Moscow in August 2021, Merkel, who speaks fluent Russian, told Spiegel:

The feeling was very clear: ‘In terms of power politics, you’re through.’ For Putin, only power counts.

The leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic have publicly criticised Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, over the war in Ukraine.

Reuters reports:

Unity within the Visegrad Group, set up in 1991 as the region emerged from decades of communist rule, has been sorely tested by the war, with Orbán opposing harsher European sanctions on Russia including on energy supplies.

By contrast, Hungary’s three Visegrad neighbours – which also include Slovakia – are among the EU’s toughest critics of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

The Czech prime minister, Petr Fiala, said as he headed for a meeting of Visegrad leaders in Slovakia on Thursday:

This is not the best of times for the (Visegrad) format, and Hungary’s different attitudes are significantly influencing and complicating the situation.

I make no secret of the fact that the views of the Hungarian prime minister, some of which can even be described as provocative, do not help this cooperation to proceed as well as in the past.

This week Orbán further annoyed his neighbours by wearing a scarf to a soccer match that depicted some Ukrainian territory as part of Hungary, prompting Kyiv to summon the Hungarian ambassador to lodge a protest.

Fiala said on Wednesday the “Greater Hungary” scarf – which also showed territory now in Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Croatia and Serbia as part of Hungary – would be discussed at Thursday’s summit gathering in the Slovak city of Kosice.

Poland, an ally of Hungary in their past disputes with the EU over the rule of law and human rights, has also turned more critical of Orbán because of his stance on Ukraine.

The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, criticised Hungary’s failure so far to ratify Sweden and Finland’s application to join Nato.

He said:

I will tell (Orbán) directly that for Poland this is one of the most important changes in international law, that is the accession of Finland and Sweden.

We can’t allow the Visegrad Group to fall apart. It is a structure which protects the interests of our countries against other interest groups from western Europe.

Updated at 08.52 EST

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