EU pledges more support for Ukraine as Zelensky calls for tougher Russia sanctions

Zelensky and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv  (AFP/Getty)
Zelensky and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv (AFP/Getty)

The EU has pledged to train an extra 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers as part of a raft of announcements at the start of a two-day visit to Kyiv by European leaders.

Russia is paying a heavy price as our sanctions are eroding its economy, throwing it back by a generation. We will keep turning up the pressure further,” the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told a joint news conference with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ms Von der Leyen, who will be attending an EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on Friday, said there would be more military, financial and political aid to come. She also announced the creation of an international centre in The Hague to prosecute crimes of aggression in Ukraine.

“We know the future of our continent is being written here ... This is a fight of democracies against authoritarian regimes,” she said.

The EU will now train 30,000 Ukrainian troops this year, while it also promised €25m (£22m) for demining areas recaptured by Ukraine.

Mr Zelensky urged more sanctions against Russia, saying the pace had “slightly slowed” and that Moscow was adapting to them. “The faster and better this task is accomplished, the closer we will be to defeating the aggression of the Russian Federation,” he said.

In the latest violence in Ukraine, Russian missile destroyed apartments in Kramatorsk, killing at least three people and trapping others under rubble, police said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defence minister has said that Kyiv believes Russia is planning a major offensive to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the invasion. Speaking to French media, Oleksii Reznikov warned that Moscow would call on a large contingent of mobilised troops. There was a general mobilisation of 300,000 conscripted soldiers in September last year, but Mr Reznikov has claimed that numbers at the border suggest the true size could be closer to 500,000.

“We do not underestimate our enemy,” Mr Reznikov said. “Officially, they announced 300,000, but when we see the troops at the borders, according to our assessments it is much more.” Officials in Kyiv have repeatedly warned about fresh Russian offensives, including around 24 February.

Russian president Vladimir Putin used a fiery speech in Volgograd on Thursday to evoke the spirit of the Soviet army that defeated Nazi Germany forces at Stalingrad in 1943 to declare that Russia will defeat Ukraine.

During the address in Volgograd, known as Stalingrad until 1961, Mr Putin lambasted Germany for helping to arm Ukraine and reiterated that he was ready to draw on Russia’s entire arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons.

“Unfortunately we see that the ideology of Nazism in its modern form and manifestation again directly threatens the security of our country,” Mr Putin told an audience of army officers and members of local patriotic and youth groups.

“Again and again we have to repel the aggression of the collective West. It’s incredible but it’s a fact: we are again being threatened with German Leopard tanks with crosses on them.”

Ukraine has secured pledges of weapons from the West that offer new capabilities, including rockets from the United States – scheduled to arrive this week – that would nearly double the range of Kyiv forces.

Kyiv has petitioned Western allies to supply aircraft. When asked on Thursday about the possibility of supplying British fighter jets to Ukrainian forces, British defence minister Ben Wallace said there was “no magic wand” that could help the country in its fight against Russia.

Mr Wallace said fighter jets were not what Ukraine needed right now and that it would take many months to train Kyiv forces to use them.

“There is no magic wand in this horrendous conflict,” said Mr Wallace during a visit to a Portsmouth naval base.

Earlier on Thursday, Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said the quickest a pilot could learn to fly a British fighter jet was 35 months.

Reuters contributed to this report