“All four of us support the status of immediate candidate for membership,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, after talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Head of Government Italian Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
“This status will be accompanied by a roadmap and will also involve taking into account the situation of the Western Balkans and the neighborhood, in particular of Moldova”, added the French leader, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU. until June 30.
Olaf Scholz also said he hoped for a “positive decision” from the European Union on granting candidate status to Ukraine and neighboring Moldova.
It will be necessary “to do everything necessary” to “find unanimity” within the EU to launch these candidacies, he added.
“Today, the most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the European Union”, also affirmed Mario Draghi. “We are at a pivotal moment in our history. The Ukrainian people defend every day the values of democracy and freedom which are the basis of the European project, of our project. We cannot drag our feet and delay this process” d accession which will take time, he continued.
The Twenty-Seven must take a decision on this question unanimously at the European summit on 23 and 24 June. Among the 27, the countries of Eastern Europe support this candidacy, but others such as Denmark or the Netherlands have expressed reservations.
President Zelensky stressed that the European Union was “on the eve of historic decisions”.
“Ukrainians have already earned the right (…) to obtain candidate status” and are “ready to work” for Ukraine to become a “full member of the EU”, he said. underline.
– “Unambiguous” support –
The French and German leaders, who arrived in kyiv in the morning on a special night train, also pledged to continue their military support for kyiv.
“We are helping Ukraine with arms deliveries, we will continue to do so for as long as Ukraine needs them,” said Scholz, criticized for delaying arms deliveries to kyiv.
Emmanuel Macron announced for his part that France would deliver to Ukraine “six additional Caesars”, these self-propelled guns renowned for their precision and of which 12 copies had according to him already been delivered.
“Ukraine must be able to resist and win (…) France has been alongside Ukraine since day one” (…) we are alongside the Ukrainians without ambiguity”, he had claimed earlier on Thursday, during a brief visit with his European counterparts to Irpin, a war-torn suburb of Kyiv.
The French president has been widely criticized in Ukraine in recent days for having asserted that Russia should not be “humiliated”, and for maintaining a regular dialogue with Vladimir Putin.
“The decision is up to President Macron, but I’m not sure the Russian president is ready to hear anything,” Zelensky said in response to a reporter’s question. “It’s not just about Emmanuel, I don’t believe any leader in the world today can individually force Russia to stop the war.”
– “Make Europe, not war” –
During their visit to Irpin, the European leaders strolled through the streets, stopping in front of buildings destroyed by the fighting or a charred car, and asking questions of their guide, the Ukrainian Minister of Decentralization Oleksiy Chernychov.
Mr. Macron notably stopped in front of a drawing on a wall, accompanied by the message “Make Europe Not War” (“Make Europe, not war”).
“That’s the right message,” he commented. “It’s very moving to see this.”
“We will rebuild everything,” promised Mario Draghi.
Before leaving Irpin, the French president praised the “heroism” of the Ukrainians, and evoked “the stigmata of barbarism, “the first traces of what war crimes are.”
Chancellor Scholz denounced “the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which simply aims to destroy and conquer”.
Hundreds of civilians were killed in the towns of Irpin, Boutcha and Borodianka, during the Russian occupation of this region in March. International investigations are underway to determine the culprits of these war crimes of which the Ukrainians accuse the Russian forces.
While waiting to know the decision of the EU, Chancellor Scholz confirmed that Mr. Zelensky had “accepted (his) invitation” to participate in the next G7 summit, from June 26 to 28, in Bavaria, then at the summit of the which will take place in the wake of Madrid.
– “Hinge moment” –
The quartet’s visit comes as Ukrainian forces struggle in Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and which Moscow has set itself the goal of gaining full control.
The United States on Wednesday announced another $1 billion tranche of military aid to Ukraine, including additional artillery pieces and shells, after US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called its allies to “step up” arms deliveries to kyiv.
“Ukraine is facing a pivotal moment on the battlefield,” he told a meeting in Brussels of the countries of the “contact group” created by the United States to help Ukraine militarily. . “We must therefore intensify our common commitment” and “redouble our efforts so that it can defend itself”, he added.
The fighting has been concentrated for several weeks on Severodonetsk and Lyssytchansk, two key neighboring cities for the control of Donbass, subjected to constant bombardments and where almost all of the infrastructure – electricity, water, communications – no longer works.
“It’s getting harder and harder every day, the Russians are bringing more and more weapons into the city and trying to attack from multiple directions,” Severodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Striouk said on Thursday.
“The situation in Severodonetsk is complicated,” admitted the head of the Ukrainian forces, Oleksiy Gromov.
The Ukrainian forces are notably entrenched in the large Azot chemical plant, emblematic of this city which before the war had some 100,000 inhabitants. More than 500 civilians are believed to have taken refuge inside, according to the mayor of Severodonetsk.
Moscow proposed on Tuesday a “humanitarian corridor” which would allow the evacuation of these civilians to territories controlled by the Russians, before accusing kyiv on Wednesday of having “failed” the operation.
In total, some 10,000 civilians are still present in Severodonetsk, Serguiï Gaïdaï, the governor of the Lugansk region, said Thursday.
“The Russian army loses hundreds of fighters, but finds reserves and continues to destroy Severodonetsk,” he said. But “our soldiers hold the defense”.