Chris Lange, FISM News
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and Romania gave a joint stamp of approval for Ukraine’s European Union candidacy during their first visit to Kyiv since the war began. The leaders met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who expressed gratitude for their support but also urged them to send in more weapons and impose further sanctions on Russia, according to Reuters.
France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Italy’s Mario Draghi, and Romania’s Klaus Iohannis said Ukraine belonged in the “European family,” a day before the European Commission is expected to deliver its recommendation regarding Ukraine’s EU candidate status.
“My colleagues and I came here to Kyiv today with a clear message: ‘Ukraine belongs to the European family’,” Scholz said.
“We all four support the immediate EU candidate status,” Macron said of Ukraine, adding, “Europe is by your side, and will remain so for as long as necessary, all the way to victory.”
Macron, who has been accused of being soft on Russia, said the West will not press Ukraine to make any concessions and that negotiations with Moscow will be on Kyiv’s terms, not the West’s.
Ukraine has intensified the urgency of its pleas for more weapons as it continues to endure losses of 100-200 soldiers a day in the brutal battle for control of its eastern Donbas region. As the bloody conflict settles into a brutal war of attrition, EU leaders now fear declining public support for supplying Ukraine with aid as the economic costs of the war begin to hit home.
“We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defense systems,” Zelenskyy said. “Every day of delay or delayed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians or destroy our cities,” he continued, adding, “There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our land.”
Zelenskyy pressed the leaders to come up with a seventh EU sanctions package that includes an embargo on Russian gas. The talks coincided with Moscow’s decision to reduce supplies via its Nord Stream pipeline, which Berlin derided as a political stunt.
During their visit, the leaders were given a tour of the nearby town of Irpin, where heavy fighting took place early in the war. There they saw firsthand evidence of mass atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in what Scholz described as the scene of “unimaginable cruelty” and “senseless violence.” In one instance, the men were taken to the wreckage of a car targeted by Russian troops while a mother and her children were inside.
“It’s a heroic city…marked by the stigma of barbarism,” Macron told reporters.
Lavrov: ‘Russia is not squeaky clean’ but ‘not ashamed’
Moscow, meanwhile, said the leaders should have used their time with Zelenskyy to take a “realistic look at the state of affairs” instead of talking about more weapons shipments to Kyiv.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, mocked the visit as having “zero use,” deriding the outcome of “promised EU membership and old howitzers to Ukraine.”
Kremlin foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told BBC News that Russia is “not ashamed of showing who we are,” and insisted, “We didn’t invade Ukraine, we declared a special military operation because we had absolutely no other way of explaining to the West that dragging Ukraine into NATO was a criminal act.”
“Russia is not squeaky clean. Russia is what it is. And we are not ashamed of showing who we are,” Lavrov said.
Civilians unable to flee Sievierodonetsk amid artillery barrages
Meanwhile, on the battlefront, hundreds of civilians sheltering in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk are unable to evacuate due to sustained Russian artillery barrages, according to The Guardian.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said 568 people, including 38 children, are currently taking refuge in the Azot plant. A pro-Russian separatist leader said Russian-backed forces will reopen a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave the plant.