Ukraine is set to receive billions of euros more in military aid, as well as training for fighter pilots, the EU’s top diplomat has said, after a “historic” meeting of EU foreign ministers in Kyiv.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said on Monday the 27-nation bloc remained committed to helping Ukraine defeat a “brutal and inhumane” Russia.
“I don’t see any member state faltering,” he said, reinforcing a declaration by the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Friday that he was confident Slovakia and Poland would continue to support the fight against Russia despite political wavering in both countries.
Borrell said the EU had proposed a “bilateral envelope” worth €5bn (£4.3bn) for Ukraine’s armed forces. EU countries would train 40,000 soldiers, provide “special training” for fighter pilots and deepen ties between EU and Ukrainian defence companies.
His comments came after EU foreign ministers held talks with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Apart from meetings at the United Nations, it was the first time they had gathered outside EU territory and the first informal summit to take place in a war zone, Borrell said.
The meeting “sent a strong message of solidarity and support”, he added, more than 18 months after Russia’s full-scale invasion. Ukraine was fighting for survival in the face of an “unjust and illegitimate” attack, he said.
Borrell called Vladimir Putin’s assault an “existential threat” for Europeans. He said Russia had attacked Odesa minutes after he left the Black Sea port city on Saturday. Addressing Moscow directly, he said: “We will not be intimidated by your missiles and drones.”
The pledge of further EU military assistance will cheer Ukraine’s government after a bumpy few days, characterised by external political setbacks. On Sunday, Joe Biden, the US president, pressed congressional Republicans to back a deal to provide more aid to Ukraine after provisions for Kyiv were left out of a bill to avoid a US government shutdown.
In Slovakia, meanwhile, a pro-Russian populist party won the most votes in an election on Saturday. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said it was too early to say what impact the vote in Slovakia might have. He played down the row in the US Congress, driven by hard-right Republicans, describing it as an “incident”.
Kuleba said: “We don’t feel that the US support has been shattered … because the United States understands that what is at stake in Ukraine is much bigger than just Ukraine, it’s about the stability and predictability of the world. And therefore I believe that we’ll be able to find the necessary solutions.”
There has been some criticism in Washington over the slow pace of Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive. On Monday Zelenskiy told EU foreign ministers that Ukraine’s ability to defeat Russia on the battlefield depended on the support it received from allies. “Our victory directly depends on our cooperation. The more strong and principled steps we take together, the sooner this war will end,” he said.
The Netherlands and Denmark have pledged to supply Kyiv with F-16 jets, a move that would make it easier for Ukraine’s land forces to advance. Ukraine is hoping for further commitments including Taurus long-range cruise missiles from Germany, and ATACMS missiles from the US – promised but not yet delivered.
On Monday Borrell dismissed the idea – floated by Roberta Metsola, the president of the European parliament, and academics recently – that Kyiv might join in stages, with access to the single market first, followed by political integration. “Membership is membership,” Borrell said. There could be no talk of half, or 25% membership, he said, adding: “[It’s] the strongest security commitment we can give to Ukraine.”
Visiting Kyiv, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, described Ukraine as the “beating heart of Europe”. In a tweet, she suggested the eastern city of Luhansk – occupied by Russia since 2014 – could in future be a part of an expanded EU that stretched from Lisbon to Russia’s border.
In November the EU will publish its first formal report on progress Ukraine has made so far on required reforms. These include strengthening the independence of the judiciary and media, deoligarchisation and greater recognition of minority nationalities.
Brussels has already indicated that Ukraine has met some targets. It now needs to build up a track record; for example, in building up a back catalogue of convictions in the courts.
Zelenskiy said there was no reason to delay. “Ukraine is ready for the membership negotiation to start and we hope that they start this year. The political solution is needed from Europe. This integration step would help show that Europe would never become weaker,” he said.
I am convening today the EU Foreign Ministers in Kyiv, for the first ever meeting of all 27 Member States outside the EU.
Ukraine’s future lies within the EU. pic.twitter.com/1mz5gpB1qx
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) October 2, 2023
The summit also endorsed Zelenskiy’s 10-point peace plan. It was the “only game in town”, Borrell said. The plan calls for Ukraine’s 1991 borders to be fully restored and for Russian troops to return home. It has been discussed twice by national security representatives in the past year but not at this level.
Without referring directly to the US bill, Zelenskiy said on Sunday that nothing would weaken his country’s fight against Russia and no one could “shut down” Ukraine’s stability, endurance, strength and courage.
EU enlargement will be top of the agenda at two summits in Spain this week, one of member state prime ministers and a second wider meeting involving leaders of up to 46 European countries including the nine countries in the queue to join the EU such as Moldova and the western Balkan states.