4th Dec 2023

Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip

  • EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen (l) travelled to Kyiv with 16 top colleagues (Photo:
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Senior EU officials pledged more military aid and Russia sanctions on a unique trip to Kyiv on Thursday (2 February), as Russian president Vladimir Putin amped up talk of World War Three.

EU countries will train an additional 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers and jointly buy an extra €500m of arms for Ukraine, the EU Commission announced.

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A new round of Russia economic and individual sanctions will be in place by 24 February (the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion) and a new Russia oil-price cap even earlier, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also pledged.

And the EU was taking steps toward confiscation of up to €349bn of internationally frozen Russian assets to help rebuild Ukraine after the war, she added.

"By 24 February, exactly one year since the invasion started, we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place," she said, speaking to press in a fortified compound.

"Russia will also have to pay for the destruction it caused and will have to contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine," she noted.

"We see today that the pace of sanctions in Europe has slowed down a little," Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky said.

"The terrorist state increases the pace of adaptation to sanctions instead. It should be resolved. We believe that we can do it together," he said.

The trip marked von der Leyen's fourth visit to Kyiv since the war began, but the first-ever with her college of commissioners, 16 of whom went along to show solidarity.

There was no Russian shelling of Kyiv reported on the day, but missiles and artillery continued to pound targets in southern Ukraine.

In more banal items, the EU pledged 35 million lightbulbs, 2,400 electricity generators, solar panels, as well as a basket of scientific research and business development programmes for when fighting ends.

Von der Leyen and Zelensky are also to hold a brief summit on Friday, touching on Ukraine's EU entry ambitions.

"It [an EU perspective] is a motivation to defend our state, first of all, and consequently the entire Europe against the biggest anti-European force in the world," Zelensky said on Thursday.

Russia was "concentrating forces and getting ready to take revenge, not only against Ukraine but also against free Europe" in an upcoming new battlefield offensive, he added.

Ukraine had floated ambitions to join the EU by 2025 ahead of this week's talks, but von der Leyen is expected to dampen down the unrealistic agenda, in a process that normally takes decades, even in peacetime.

Zelensky is also calling for Western fighter jets on top of recent US and European pledges to send modern battle tanks, but so far France and Poland are the only Nato countries showing interest in his appeal.

For his part, Putin speaking at a World War Two memorial event in the city of Volgograd the same day claimed Germany's decision to send tanks to Ukraine also showed the collective West was out to destroy his country.

"It's unbelievable but true. We are once again being threatened by German Leopard tanks with crosses on them. And again they are going to fight Russia on Ukrainian soil through the last followers of Hitler," he said.

"Those who are counting on achieving victory over Russia on the battlefield do not understand that a modern war with Russia for them will be completely different," he added.

"We have something to respond with, and it won't be limited to the use of armoured vehicles. Everyone must understand this," he said.

His foreign ministry spokesman, Maria Zakharova, also claimed anti-Russia sanctions were hurting the EU more than Russia itself.

"Western Europe, falling into recession, having long lost the habit of survival, is sinking, with Ukraine tied to its feet," she said.


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