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BUDAPEST: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Wednesday he had urged Vladimir Putin to put in place an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, and invited the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine to meet the Russian leader in Budapest.

“I suggested to President Putin that he declare an immediate ceasefire,” Orban told a press conference, adding that he had proposed a meeting in Budapest between the Russian leader, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Orban said the Russian president’s response to the idea of a meeting “was positive, but with conditions,” Orban said, without elaborating.

Orban said that Putin had initiated Wednesday’s call and later clarified that Macron and Scholz had not yet been informed about the idea for a meeting.

Asked about civilians found dead in the town of Bucha near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv after Russian troops withdrew, Orban replied: “With all atrocities, we have to examine them, even though we live in an era of massive manipulation where we can’t be sure if we can trust our own eyes”.

He called for civilians to be protected “at all costs”, adding: “We want an independent, fair investigation”.

Orban had previously had one of the closest relationships to Putin of any EU leader and on Wednesday restated his opposition to Hungary sending weapons to Ukraine and to the EU imposing an embargo on Russian energy imports, on which Hungary is highly dependent.

He also said Hungary would be prepared to pay Russia in rubles for gas imports, which would make Hungary the first EU member to break ranks and make such a move.

Putin has warned that EU members will need to set up ruble accounts to pay for Russian gas and Orban said Hungary would “have no difficulty paying in rubles” if Moscow asked it to.

Earlier Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a statement posted to Facebook that the EU had no role in gas supplies, which were “regulated by a bilateral contract”.

“The European Commission’s desire to have a common response on the part of importers doesn’t seem necessary to us,” Szijjarto said, adding that “a technical solution” would be found to ensure a payment due to Gazprom at the end of May could go ahead.

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