June 23. 2024. 1:54

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Zelenskyy urges EU leaders to address ‘five delays’ in Ukraine support

Connecting from a train in Ukraine’s war-torn east, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told EU leaders on Thursday (23 March) that “delays” in sending fighter jets and long-range missiles could extend the war in his country.

Zelenskyy addressed EU leaders via video link for 10 minutes from a Ukrainian train while visiting war-ravaged areas along the frontline in the country’s east, an EU official told reporters in Brussels on the sidelines of an EU summit.

The Ukrainian leader welcomed the EU plan agreed this week aimed at sending Kyiv one million artillery shells over the next 12 months, saying he would be “especially grateful to those of you who are actively involved in the initiative proposed by Estonia and approved by all” member states.

However, Zelenskyy stressed “five delays” in the EU’s support that risk prolonging Russia’s war.

Those would include the delays in Western allies’ provision of more modern warplanes and long-range missiles to help push back Moscow’s forces.

As the EU summit began, Slovakia said it had transferred four Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, after becoming the first country alongside Poland to commit to sending older planes.

Zelenskyy stressed he was “grateful to Poland and to Slovakia for their decisions on MiGs for Ukraine”, but asked EU leaders whether what the “rational motivation for the protraction in providing modern aircraft” would be.

Despite Ukraine’s pleas, Kyiv’s backers have so far refused to provide Western-made aircraft, while Zelenskyy stressed that the delay in doing so could potentially drag out the war.

EU seals deal on joint ammunition procurement for Ukraine

EU member states agreed on Monday (20 March) on a plan to give one million artillery shells to Ukraine within 12 months by digging into their own stockpiles and teaming up to buy more, according to a document seen by EURACTIV.

Zelenskyy also urged EU leaders to impose more sanctions on Moscow as EU leaders debated that the bloc should shift its focus from new punitive measures towards enforcement and fighting circumvention.

“The simple question is: how will third countries perceive this protraction? Those whose governments do not respect international law?,” he asked.

“Obviously, they may think that ignoring the sanctions will have no consequences – that’s why sanctions must be expanded. There cannot be even a slight hint of delaying decisions on sanctions,” he added.

He also called to increase support for a peace plan proposed by Kyiv and speed up work on Ukraine’s membership bid in the bloc.

“Ukraine is ready for a decision to start accession negotiations on EU membership already this year. The same readiness is needed from all of you – every leader in Europe,” he said.

“Ukrainians need to see your readiness and need to be motivated by it,” Zelenskyy added.

The European Commission is set to release its assessment of Ukraine’s progress later this year, with an oral presentation of the EU executive’s seven reform recommendations expected in spring and the formal enlargement package in autumn.

After that, some EU officials believe, there is a chance to potentially open accession talks in December should the European Commission recommend and EU leaders sign off on the step.

The Ukrainian president gave an emotional account of the devastation he had seen during his visit to the region and particularly to the battleground town of Bakhmut in east Ukraine, the scene of the heaviest fighting in recent weeks.

Zelenskyy said it was devastating to see cities under siege, but that Ukrainian people were “fiercely resisting”.

“God forbid anyone in the world should see their cities empty because of the threat of terrorist attacks, such as Kramatorsk or dozens of other cities of Donbas,” Zelenskyy said.

Before his call-in to Brussels, Zelenskyy had visited the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, which is currently under partial control of Russian forces.