BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary’s Viktor Orban said on Friday that he “went to the wall” for his country before agreeing to an EU deal on Thursday to extend new aid to Ukraine and that he averted the risk of losing EU funds earmarked for Budapest from the bloc’s joint coffers.

European Union leaders unanimously agreed on Thursday to extend 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in new aid to Ukraine, sending a message to the United States where a divide has opened up over whether to keep backing Kyiv in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

The agreement came surprisingly quickly after weeks of resistance from Hungary, which has refused to send weapons to Ukraine since the war started and whose relations with Ukraine have been marred by tensions over the treatment of some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in western Ukraine.

In a regular interview on state radio on Friday, where he addresses his domestic audience, Orban said the agreement reached on Thursday was a good one.

“I went to the wall,” Orban said.

“If this deal had not been reached and Hungary had continued to use its right of veto then 26 member states would have agreed to send the money to Ukraine … and would have taken away the funds earmarked for Hungary and sent that to Ukraine as well — why would that have been good?,” Orban added.

“We are not sending weapons (to Ukraine), we get our money from Brussels, and we will contribute to the civil financing of Ukraine.”

After freeing up access to some tranches of EU funds in December to Hungary, the European Commission is still withholding some 20 billion euros from Budapest over widespread accusations that Orban has damaged democracy at home during his 13 years in power. His government rejects these allegations.

Orban reiterated that peace talks should start between Ukraine and Russia as two years have now passed since the start of the war, and “time was on the Russians’ side.”

Orban has been a vocal critic of the EU’s financial and military support for Kyiv and maintained ties with the Kremlin since Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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