French President Emmanuel Macron and his German and Italian counterparts are expected in Kyiv on Thursday, where they are expected to pledge Europe’s support for war-torn Ukraine, following billions of dollars in military aid announced by the United States.
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Without confirming that trip, Mr Macron, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Union, sent signals to Kyiv on Wednesday and visited a NATO base in Romania.
“I think we are at a time when we, the European Union, need to send clear political signals to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in a context where they have been heroically resisting for several months,” said the French President , when asked about a possible trip to Kyiv.
Several Italian and German media have announced that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will visit the Ukrainian capital on Thursday.
This trip would be a first for the leaders of the three main European Union countries since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
The three men are to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss Ukraine’s application for membership of the European Union, in addition to military support. France, Germany and Italy are in favour, but from a more or less distant perspective.
Ukraine expects no less from the European summit on 23/24. June the Twenty-Seven’s decision on their official application for membership, beginning a negotiation process that could last several years.
Its president should also reiterate his call for new shipments of heavy weapons, which he asserts are essential to counter Russian firepower.
“Be with us”
“We are with you, be with us,” Zelensky told Czech lawmakers in Prague on a conference call, citing an appeal by a Czechoslovak radio host in 1968 when the Soviet occupiers tried to turn off the radio.
“Today, as the people of Ukraine fight for their freedom against the cruel invasion of Russia, we use these words to address all the nations of Europe and the democratic world,” he added.
“Ukraine must be given everything it needs to achieve victory,” he stressed.
On Wednesday evening, Mr. Zelensky expressed his “gratitude” to the United States for the new tranche of military aid his American counterpart Joe Biden announced to him over the phone that evening.
“The United States has announced a new reinforcement of our defense, a new aid tranche of one billion dollars,” Zelenskyy confirmed in his daily video message on Wednesday evening.
“I would like to express my gratitude for this support, which is particularly important for our defense in Donbass,” the region in eastern Ukraine, the epicenter of the current Russian attacks.
US aid includes additional artillery and shells.
On Wednesday, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin urged his allies to “step up” arms sales to Ukraine.
“Ukraine is facing a crucial moment on the battlefield,” the US Secretary of Defense said during a meeting of the countries of the “Contact Group” created by the United States to help Ukraine at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We must therefore intensify our joint engagement” and “redouble our efforts so that it can defend itself,” he added.
Mr Zelensky said he also spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tweeted that he supported Ukraine “until ultimate victory”.
And it leads through the Donbass in eastern Ukraine, which has been the subject of bitter fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces for days.
Since their aborted offensive on Kyiv in March, Russian and pro-Russian separatists, who have partially controlled this industrial region since 2014, have aimed to take full control.
“The enemy has concentrated its main attack forces in the north of the region (Lugansk) and is trying to attack from nine directions at once,” the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Wednesday evening.
For several days, fighting has focused on Lysychantsk and Severodonetsk, two key cities in Donbass. Ukrainian authorities have admitted in recent days that their troops have been driven out of central Severodonetsk and have only “complicated lines of communication” with them after all bridges to Lysyhansk were destroyed.
“Severodonetsk is a strategic element in our defense system of the Luhansk region. The city cannot be looked at in any other way,” the Ukrainian commander-in-chief recalled on Wednesday evening.
According to Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandre Striouk, Ukrainian forces are mainly entrenched in the Azot chemical plant, which before the war was a landmark in this city of about 100,000 people and housing more than 500 civilians.
Moscow on Tuesday proposed a “humanitarian corridor” that would allow these civilians to be evacuated to Russian-controlled areas, but Kyiv did not confirm this.
Russia on Wednesday accused Kiev forces of preventing the operation.
On the diplomatic front, at a time when the United States and Europe are rallying around Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday reiterated his closeness to his “old friend” Vladimir Putin, at the risk of damaging relations between Beijing and China to burden westerners.
For its part, the UN is concerned about the consequences of the food crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. If the world fails to contain this crisis, the record of 100 million uprooted will increase by “a large number of people”, warned the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Italian Filippo grandi.