KYIV/IRPIN, (Ukraine): The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, all criticised in the past by Kyiv for support viewed as too cautious, visited Ukraine on Thursday and offered the hope of EU membership to a country pleading for weapons to fend off Russia’s invasion.
Air raid sirens blared in Kyiv as the visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Mario Draghi began, with the leaders touring a nearby town wrecked early in the war.
After holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the leaders signalled that Ukraine should be granted European Union candidate status, a symbolic gesture that would draw Kyiv closer to the economic bloc.
Scholz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees who had fled the conflict and would continue to support Ukraine as long as it needs.
“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” he said.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out against massive Russian bombardment in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, and described new progress in a counteroffensive in the south.
But they said battles on both main fronts depended on receiving more aid from the West, especially artillery to counter Russia’s big advantage in firepower.
“We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defence systems,” Zelenskiy said after the talks with his European counterparts.
“There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our land,” he said.
Macron said France would step up arms deliveries to Kyiv, while NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels were also expected to promise more weapons.
GAS FLOWS FALL
The visit had taken weeks to organise, while the three most powerful EU leaders all fended off criticism over positions described as too deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Critics compared Macron and Scholz to Britain’s Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv more than two months ago.
The leaders, who were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irpin, a town northeast of the capital devastated soon after the invasion began on Feb. 24, where withdrawing Russian forces left behind bodies littering the streets.
Noting graffiti on a wall that read “Make Europe, not war”, Macron said: “It’s very moving to see that. This is the right message.”
Scholz, Macron and Draghi all say they are strong supporters of Ukraine who have taken practical steps to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.
But Ukraine has long criticised Scholz over what it regards as Germany’s slow delivery of weapons and reluctance to sever economic ties with Moscow, and was furious this month at Macron for saying in an interview that Russia must not be “humiliated”.
Italy, which last year sourced 40% of its natural gas imports from Russia, has also proposed a peace plan which Ukrainians fear could lead to pressure on them to give up territory.
After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said some sort of communication channel was still needed with Putin.
The war has caused global economic disruption and surging prices for food and energy, forcing central banks around the world to jack up borrowing costs even while their economies stumble.
Despite sanctions, Europe still depends on Russia for much of its energy supplies. Gas deliveries through a major pipeline to Germany have fallen in recent days, raising concern about supplies for winter, with Moscow blaming the sanctions for holding up delivery of equipment sent abroad for repair.