Ukraine News: Zelensky celebrates support for Kyiv’s path to EU

Credit…Alexei Furman/Getty Images

Speaking to the press after his meetings with EU leaders on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky praised their support for Ukraine’s bid for EU membership, but said that more immediate military aid would be needed to oppose Russia.

“The very course of European history has proven the correctness of the EU’s positive response to Ukraine’s aspirations,” he said. It will, he said, “strengthen freedom in Europe and become one of the key European decisions of the first third of the 21st century”.

At the same time, he again called for more heavy weapons, especially for the battlefields of eastern Ukraine.

“We are waiting for new supplies, especially heavy weapons, modern anti-rocket artillery and missile defense systems,” he said. “Every batch of supplies saves lives. And every day of delays or postponed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian army to kill Ukrainians.

The talks, he said, will not end the war. “We touched on the topic of diplomatic efforts of various countries to achieve peace,” he said. “Everyone sees that the only obstacle to all these efforts is the Russian Federation’s unpreparedness for real actions, for real negotiations.”

In his evening speech, Mr Zelensky said the meeting was a “big step” and thanked the Italian, Romanian, French and German leaders for their defense assistance. Mr. Zelensky also said that Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine, would help Ukraine in the transit of its goods, including the export of grain.

Ahead of the visit, an adviser to Mr Zelensky said a lot more weapons would be needed to turn the tide of battles in the east. Ukraine will need 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 300 rocket artillery systems, the aide said.

At NATO ministers’ meetings on Wednesday, the United States pledged more than $1 billion in new military aid to Ukraine, including numerous long-range artillery and missile systems. So far, the United States has provided 108 towed howitzers, 200 armored personnel carriers, 800 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles.

But European arms transfers have lagged behind, comparatively. Mr. Macron promised six additional Caesar self-propelled howitzers on Thursday, in addition to the 12 already provided. Germany provided 14 armored personnel carriers and 2,500 anti-aircraft missiles, including Stingers.

A sense of disappointment was palpable among Ukrainian commentators and even some officials in Mr. Zelensky’s government on Thursday at perceived attempts in Europe to push Ukraine toward negotiations with Russia at this stage.

Viktor Andrusiv, adviser to the Minister of the Interior, posted on social media that “Macron, Scholz and Draghi present us with a candidacy for the EU and a request to return to the negotiation process with Putin”.

The European Commission is expected to unveil its official recommendation on Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union on Friday and, officials say, is likely to recommend that the nation be granted candidate status.

Yet, although now overshadowed by war, the expected acceptance of Ukraine’s application to join the bloc has been widely celebrated as a breakthrough for Ukraine, even though the process of joining the bloc is arduous and can take up to a decade.

To join, a country must also make its political, judicial and economic system compatible with the bloc by adopting the EU’s common law system, as well as more than 80,000 pages of rules and regulations.

Nonetheless, the desire to tie Ukraine more closely to Europe was the issue driving street protesters who toppled a pro-Russian president eight years ago.

And the prospect of eventual membership would help rally Ukrainians today by signaling a post-war future within the European Union and ending the perception of Ukraine as a buffer zone of security with Russia,” Oleksiy Honcharenko, a member of parliament, said in an interview.

“It’s a psychological weapon to demonstrate that Ukraine has a future,” he said.

Christi C. Elwood