European leaders support fast-tracking Ukraine’s bid to join EU

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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

European leaders have said they support Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday.

Leaders from France, Germany, Italy and Romania met with President Volodymyr Zelensky for talks at the Presidential Palace in Kyiv as the Russia invasion continued.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis all publicly backed Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc during the visit.

Mr Macron said he and his counterparts back Ukraine for “immediate” candidate status to join the European Union. He’d previously said Ukraine’s membership bid could take years if not decades.

During the talks, Mr Macron also promised six more powerful truck-mounted artillery guns on top of the 12 it has already committed.

This is the latest in a new round of Western arms pledges for Ukraine as the war grinds on in the eastern Donbas region.

The leaders “are doing everything so that Ukraine alone can decide its fate,” Mr Macron said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, Mr Scholz said Ukraine and Moldova belonged in the European family, but would still have to meet the criteria for accession.

He also promised Germany would continue to support Ukraine financially and militarily, as long as it was necessary.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky  poses next to Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis (AFP via Getty Images)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky poses next to Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Draghi added that the Ukrainian people were defending the values of democracy and freedom that underpin the European project in their fight against the Russian invasion.

Mr Zelensky said that “Ukrainians have already earned the right to go down this road and obtain this candidate status.”

He added that the war in Ukraine was an attack on all of Europe and thanked the leaders’ for their visit, which he said was a sign that Ukraine was not isolated in its struggle.

EU leaders are due to hold a summit next week during which Ukraine’s application to become a candidate for membership will be on the agenda.

Earlier in the day, the EU leaders visited the town of Irpin, outside of Kyiv.

Irpin was the scene of intense fighting early in the war and a place where many civilians were killed and buildings destroyed.

While visiting Irpin, Mr Scholz observed that officials must keep the scenes of destruction in mind in all their decisions.

“Innocent civilians have been hit, houses have been destroyed; a whole town has been destroyed in which there was no military infrastructure at all,” he said.

“And that says a great deal about the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which is simply out for destruction and conquest. We must bear that in mind in everything that we decide.”

 (AP)
(AP)

Italy’s Mr Draghi said during the tour of Irpin that Ukraine’s backers will rebuild “everything” with European help.

“They destroyed the nurseries, the playgrounds, and everything will be rebuilt,” he added.

Many in Ukraine hoped that the leaders’ visit could mark a turning point by opening the way to significant new arms supplies and it also comes as EU leaders prepare to make a decision next week on Ukraine’s request to become a candidate for membership in the bloc.

European allies have sent increasingly muscular weapons and rallied around Ukraine more than many expected, approving wave after wave of unprecedented sanctions against Russia that are badly squeezing Europe’s economy.

But Ukrainians say more is still needed as Russian forces pressing their offensive in the eastern Donbas region, slowly but steadily gaining ground on the badly outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces.

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