Zelensky wraps up European tour with visit to EU summit

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers – already heading home with heaps of goodwill, promises of more military aid and France’s highest medal of honour.

The European Union’s 27 leaders are awaiting the man in khaki in Brussels on Thursday, hoping to impress on him that the powerful bloc is steadfast in its support of embattled Ukraine as Russia is feared to be making moves for a new offensive around the February 24 one-year anniversary of the war.

Flying in from Paris with President Emmanuel Macron, who honoured him with the Grand Cross of France’s Legion of Honour, Mr Zelensky will be stepping up from a half-dozen video addresses to the EU leaders over the past year to use his impressive aura and oratory skills in person to make sure that nothing stalls in Europe’s unwavering backing.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the bloc will send Mr Zelensky “this signal of unity and solidarity, and can show that we will continue our support for Ukraine in defending its independence and integrity for as long as this is necessary”.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said “it is my plea that everyone will do what they can. The price will go up with every delay”.

That need was especially pressing on Thursday.

A US-based think tank said Russian forces “have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive” in the eastern, largely occupied, Luhansk region.

“Russian sources are widely reporting that conventional Russian troops are attacking Ukrainian defensive lines and making marginal advances,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its most recent report.

Mr Zelensky will be using the dais of the European Parliament to make his point in a plenary session, hoping to match Wednesday’s speech to Britain’s legislature when he thanked the nation for its unrelenting support.

That same support has come from the EU. The bloc and its member states have already backed Kyiv with some 50 billion euros (£44.4 billion) in aid, provided military hardware and imposed nine packages of sanctions on the Kremlin.

After the solemn words at parliament, Mr Zelensky will move to the urn-shaped Europa building for a working session with the 27 leaders.

Mr Macron’s office has already confirmed the bloc “will reiterate Europeans’ unwavering support to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people”. Few would expect anything less.

The EU is in the midst of brokering a new sanctions package worth some 10 billion euros (£8.9 billion) ahead of the war’s first anniversary. And there is still plenty of scope for exporting more military hardware to Ukraine as a Russian spring offensive is expected.

One topic that was not on the agenda in Britain but will be in Brussels is Ukraine’s desire to become a member of the European Union as soon as possible.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, walks next to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky before heading to Brussels
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, walks next to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky before heading to Brussels (Mohammed Badra/AP)

Mr Zelensky well knows the EU sometimes moves at a snail’s pace while he himself had to be lightning fast to stave off an early Russian victory and set up a defence of his vast nation that very few would have deemed possible a year ago.

Now, after initial hesitation, EU nations have finally started to step up their military contributions as well.

Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced on Tuesday they plan to provide Ukraine with at least 100 refurbished German-made Leopard 1 battle tanks in the coming months. The announcement followed Germany agreeing last month to allow deliveries of the more modern Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Beyond EU top officials like summit host Charles Michel and Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Mr Zelensky should find time for bilateral meetings with leaders to press for more hardware, ranging from ammunition to warplanes — something the bloc as a whole does not possess but individual countries do.

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