(Kyiv) Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and Mario Draghi on Thursday began an unprecedented “support” visit to Kyiv as the European Union will decide next week whether to grant Ukraine official candidate status.
Posted at 6:49 am
Updated at 6:50am
Arriving at Kyiv station after almost a ten-hour train ride from south-eastern Poland, the French President said he wanted to support Kyiv “both for the present and for the future” until the 30th.
Until his visit to Irpin, one of the Kyiv suburbs devastated by the failed Russian offensive on the capital earlier in the war, the French President defended himself against any “ambiguity” in his support for Kyiv, for which he had much was criticized that Russia should not be “humiliated”.
“Ukraine must be able to resist and win” against the Russian army, he declared. “France has been with Ukraine since day one” […] we are unequivocally on the side of the Ukrainians,” he assured.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been criticized for the lack of German arms deliveries to Ukraine, has not made any official statements for the time being. He indicated that the visit was aimed at “showing our solidarity” and “ensuring that the aid we are organizing, financial, humanitarian but also in terms of arms, continues. […] how long Ukraine’s struggle for independence is taking,” in an interview with the daily newspaper Bild, published upon his arrival in Kyiv.
Like other European leaders who have come to Kyiv before them, the leaders strolled the streets of Irpin, stopping in front of buildings destroyed by fighting or a charred car and watching videos of Irpin amidst the fighting.
At the end of that visit, the French President praised the “heroism” of Ukrainians.
Here, among other things, the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army, which was advancing on Kyiv. So you have to imagine the heroism of the army, but also of the Ukrainian people,” Macron said, referring to “the stigmata of barbarism” and the ongoing war crimes investigations that Ukrainians accuse Russian forces of.
Hundreds of civilians were killed in the cities of Irpin, Boutcha and Borodianka during the Russian occupation of this region in March. International investigations are underway to identify those responsible for the war crimes that Ukrainians have accused Russian forces of committing.
“Clear political signals”
The four leaders were then due to return to central Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ahead of a joint press conference in the afternoon.
The Ukrainian capital has come back to life since Russia withdrew from the region, but is still occasionally hit by Russian fire. Warning sirens often sound there, as they did shortly after the arrival of European leaders.
The issue of Ukraine’s accession to the EU should be at the center of discussions. Mr Zelensky insists that by defending “the values” of Europe in the face of Russian aggression, his country won the right to join the European bloc, which the EU had refused before the Russian invasion began.
The Twenty-Seven must first decide whether to grant Ukraine official candidate status at a summit on June 23-24, the start of a negotiation process that could take years. The European Commission will announce its recommendation on Friday.
On Wednesday, speaking from Romania, the French President stressed the need to send “clear political signals” to Ukrainians in an “unprecedented geopolitical situation”.
Among the 27, the Eastern European countries support this candidacy, but others like Denmark or the Netherlands have expressed reservations. Every decision requires unanimity.
According to some experts, Ukraine could be granted candidate status with conditions or a date for starting negotiations.
France says it is “open” to this candidacy but proposes the creation of a European political community that would allow Ukraine to anchor more quickly in Europe by linking it to concrete defence, energy or infrastructure projects without waiting for membership. A proposal freshly welcomed in Kyiv, which fears it will indefinitely postpone EU membership.
The Ukrainian president is also expected to reiterate his call for an acceleration of heavy arms shipments.
“Ukraine must get everything it needs for victory,” he stressed on Wednesday before Czech MPs.
Mr. Macron assured that France contributed to the delivery of “defensive and then offensive” military equipment, in particular with the delivery of Caesar self-propelled guns, which are already deployed on the Donbass front.
The visit comes as Ukrainian forces are fighting in Donbass, a region of eastern Ukraine that has been partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and that Moscow has vowed to fully control.
The United States on Wednesday announced another $1 billion tranche of military aid to Ukraine, which includes additional artillery and shells.
“I want to express my gratitude for this support, it is especially important for our defense in Donbass,” Zelenskyy responded in his daily video message.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin on Wednesday urged his allies to “step up” arms sales to Ukraine.
“Ukraine is facing a crucial moment on the battlefield,” he said at a meeting of countries in the “Contact Group” created by the United States to provide military assistance to Ukraine in Brussels. “We must therefore intensify our joint engagement” and “redouble our efforts so that it can defend itself,” he added.
For several weeks, fighting has been concentrated in Sievierodonetsk and Lysytchansk, two important neighboring cities for controlling Donbass, which are subject to constant bombing and almost all of their infrastructure – electricity, water, communications – is no longer working.
“It’s getting harder every day, the Russians are bringing more and more weapons into the city and trying to attack from multiple directions,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striouk said on Thursday.
According to the mayor of Sievierodonetsk, Oleksandre Striouk, the Ukrainian forces entrenched themselves in particular in the Azot chemical plant, which before the war was a landmark of this city of about 100,000 inhabitants and which housed more than 500 civilians.
Moscow on Tuesday proposed a “humanitarian corridor” that would evacuate those civilians to Russian-controlled territory, before on Wednesday blaming Kyiv for “failing” the operation.
In all, about 10,000 civilians remain in Sievyodonetsk, Luhansk region governor Serguii Gaidai said on Thursday.
“For almost four months they (the Russians) have dreamed of controlling Sievierodonetsk, where out of 100,000 inhabitants there are about 10,000 left, not counting the victims,” he told Telegram.
According to him, “the Russian army loses hundreds of fighters, but finds reserves and continues to destroy Sievierodonetsk”. But “our soldiers are holding the defense,” he said.