By RAF CASERT and SAMUEL PETREQUIN
BRUSSELS (AP) — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked his Western allies Thursday for more weapons and said “a Ukraine that is winning” its war with Russia should become a member of the European Union, arguing the bloc won’t be complete without it.
At the close of a 16-hour summit that ended Friday when Zelenskyy was already gone, the EU leaders pledged they would do all it takes to back Ukraine but offered no firm timetable for membership talks to start as Zelenskyy had hoped for.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the leaders agreed to support Ukraine “tirelessly, over the long term … to win the war’.’
EU leaders pledged to look over the next month at boosting ammunition production for Ukraine’s war effort as it faces fresh challenges from Russia.
EU Council President Charles Michel said the bloc need to “cooperate with the industrial sector and to ensure that we can speed up the level of production of ammunition and that they can also fulfill the commitments that are needed.”
And EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that a new 10-billion euro sanctions package under discussion would center on goods that are almost irreplaceable.
“We look deep into the war machinery of Russia, where we can define either technologies or spare parts that are being used by the military complex,” she said.
During his time in Brussels, Zelenskyy asked Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger to give Ukraine its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, and he replied: “We will work on” the request. Slovakia grounded its fleet of MiG-29s last year.
Macron didn’t rule out sending French fighter jets to Ukraine, but said Zelenskyy didn’t ask for them and they were not Ukraine’s most urgent need. “In no case could warplanes be delivered in the coming weeks,” Macron said, notably because of the necessary training. He said France may consider “intensifying’ deliveries of other equipment such as artillery or missile systems.
The commitments came after an emotional day at EU headquarters in Brussels where Zelenskyy wrapped up a rare, two-day trip outside Ukraine to seek new weaponry from the West to repel the invasion that Moscow has been waging for nearly a year. As he spoke, a new offensive by Russia in eastern Ukraine was under way.
Zelenskyy, who also visited the U.K. and France, received rapturous applause and cheers from the European Parliament and a summit of the 27 EU leaders, insisting in his speech that the fight with Russia was one for the freedom of all of Europe.
“A Ukraine that is winning is going to be member of the European Union,” Zelenskyy said, building his appeal around the common destiny that Ukraine and the bloc face in confronting Russia.
“Europe will always be, and remain Europe as long as we … take care of the European way of life,” he said.
EU membership talks should start later this year, Zelenskyy said, an ambitious request given the huge task ahead. Such a move would help motivate Ukrainian soldiers in their defense of the country, he said.
“Of course we need it this year,“ he said, then looked at European Council head Charles Michel, and insisted, tongue-in-cheek: “When I say this year, I mean this year. Two, zero, 23.”
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, however, said “there is no rigid timeline.” In practice, membership often has taken decades to complete.
He held up an EU flag after his address and the lawmakers stood in somber silence as the Ukrainian national anthem and the European anthem “Ode to Joy” were played in succession.
Before his speech, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said allies should consider “quickly, as a next step, providing long-range systems” and fighter jets to Ukraine. The response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine “must be proportional to the threat, and the threat is existential,” she said.
Metsola also told Zelenskyy that “we have your back. We were with you then, we are with you now, we will be with you for as long as it takes.”
Military analysts say Putin is hoping that Europe’s support for Ukraine will wane as Russia is believed to be preparing a new offensive.
The Kremlin’s forces “have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive” in the eastern Luhansk region, most of which is occupied by Russia, the Institute for the Study of War, said in its latest assessment. “Russian forces are gradually beginning an offensive, but its success is not inherent or predetermined.”
Zelenskyy used the dais of the European Parliament hoping to match Wednesday’s speech to Britain’s legislature when he thanked the nation for its unrelenting support.
That same support has come from the EU. The bloc and its member states have already backed Kyiv with about 50 billion euros ($53.6 billion) in aid, provided military hardware and imposed nine packages of sanctions on the Kremlin.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, visited a Siberian arms factory Thursday and said his country will respond to the Western aid by churning out thousands of tanks.
“Our enemy was begging for aircraft, missiles and tanks on a trip abroad,” Medvedev said during a visit to the аactory in Omsk. “We will naturally increase the output of various types of weapons and military equipment, including modern tanks. We are talking about production and modernization of thousands of tanks.”
Fighting in Ukraine intensified Thursday, with Kyiv’s military intelligence agency saying Russian forces have launched an offensive in the the partially occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with the aim to grab full control of the entire industrial region, known as the Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.
“An escalation is underway and the main goal is to seize Donbas by the end of March,” Main Intelligence Directorate spokesman Andriy Yusov told Ukrainian television.
In Donetsk, the front line expanded significantly over the previous day, with fierce battles taking place as Moscow’s forces closed in on key Ukrainian-held towns, according to regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko. Russian shelling struck a kindergarten, hospital, cultural center, factory and apartment buildings, he said.
“The intensity of the shelling has increased dramatically and we are seeing a significant intensification of activity by the Russian army immediately in the south, center and north of the region,” Kyrylenko said. “Russia is again actively using combat aircraft to shell our cities and villages.”
Russian forces also stepped up attacks in neighboring Luhansk province, launching “a broad offensive,” regional Gov. Serhii Haidai said.
In Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv province, 23 cities and villages came under shelling. In the border city of Vovchansk, shelling damaged about 10 apartment buildings.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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