March 20, 2023

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German, French and Italian leaders in Kyiv in showing support

German, French and Italian leaders in Kyiv in showing support

Kyiv (Reuters) – Several sirens sounded in Kyiv as French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi began a joint visit to show support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

The three arrived in the Ukrainian capital early Thursday after traveling together overnight on a train used to carry high-profile visitors to Ukraine.

“It is an important moment. It is a message of unity that we send to the Ukrainians, support, to talk about the present and the future, because the coming weeks, as we know, will be very difficult,” Macron said. They have arrived.

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Macron, who has been criticized at home and abroad for not traveling to Ukraine earlier, has repeatedly said he will only go if and when the visit is “useful” and not just a token show of support.

It remains to be seen what concrete steps will be announced.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis will join the three for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expected to address Kyiv’s bid to join the European Union as well as the war itself.

The visit took weeks to organize with the three men looking to overcome criticism within Ukraine over their response to the war.

“Here we are, we are focused, we will join President Zelensky to go to a war site where massacres were committed,” Macron said.

BFM TV said the leaders were heading to Irbin, where Ukraine says Russia has committed atrocities on a large scale. Russia denies the allegations.

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EU candidacy

Asked why the visit was taking place now, an Elysee official said they thought it best to do so before next week’s EU summit which is due to discuss Kyiv’s bid to join the 27-nation bloc.

On Friday, the European Union’s executive director is expected to propose that Ukraine become an official candidate for membership in the bloc, diplomats and officials said.

This would be an important political gesture for the country as it resists the Russian invasion, but it is also something that EU leaders are deeply divided on.

“A balance has to be found between Ukraine’s natural aspirations to join the European Union at a very special time, concern for all countries that already have candidate status and are stuck in the negotiating chapters and the fact that we must not destabilize or break the European Union,” the Elysee official said.

Zelensky is expected to push his visitors to send more weapons to help his hard-pressed army withstand the Russian invaders.

Kyiv accused France, Germany, and, to a lesser extent, Italy, of being slow in its support of Ukraine, saying it had been slow to deliver weapons and put its prosperity before Ukraine’s freedom and security.

A high-ranking official from one of the European Union countries said that Zelensky was “in a really difficult situation: the Ukrainian army not only needs weapons, but also increases the shortage of soldiers”.

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Oleksiy Aristovich, an adviser to Zelensky, told Germany’s Bild newspaper this week that he was worried that the three leaders would pressure Kyiv to accept a peace deal in the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Addressing that concern, Draghi said on Tuesday it was important that peace talks begin as soon as possible, but added that they should be “on terms that Ukraine considers acceptable.”

Ukraine has been particularly critical of German military aid, and Germany’s ambassador in Berlin, Andrei Melnik, told German broadcaster NTV that he expected Schulz to deliver heavy weapons that had long been promised but not yet delivered.

Schulz denied allegations that he had obstructed much-needed military support, saying that Germany had been one of Ukraine’s largest military and financial backers, and that training Ukrainian soldiers to use the advanced artillery systems it was providing took time.

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Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Andreas Reinke in Berlin, John Irish and Michel Rose and Benoit van Overstreetten in Paris; Written by Crispin Palmer and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Toby Chopra, Mark Potter and Angus McSwan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.