EU leaders criticized lukewarm support for conveying a “message of unity” to Ukraine

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  • Weapons needed to repel the Russian advance in the south and east
  • Ukrainian troops and civilians holed up at the Severodonetsk plant

Kyiv (Reuters) – The leaders of Germany, France and Italy – all of whom Kyiv has criticized in the past for supporting what they see as too cautious – paid a joint visit to Ukraine on Thursday and toured a town devastated by the Russian invasion.

“It’s an important moment. It is a message of unity that we send to the Ukrainians,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after boarding a night train in Kyiv with German Olaf Schultz and Italy’s Mario Draghi. They were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

And the sirens sounded with the start of the visit. They toured the ruins of Irbin, a suburb of Kyiv devastated by fighting early in the war, when Russian forces left the corpses of civilians littering the streets as they retreated.

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Referring to graffiti on the wall reading “Make Europe, not war,” Macron said: “It is very moving to see that. This is the right message.”

The visit took weeks to organize as the EU’s three most powerful leaders fended off criticism over attitudes that have been described as too condescending to Russian President Vladimir Putin. British Boris Johnson visited Kyiv more than two months ago.

However, the three’s decision to travel together carries powerful symbolism at a pivotal moment – a day before the EU’s Executive Committee is expected to recommend moving forward with Ukraine’s bid to join the bloc, which EU leaders are expected to approve at the upcoming summit. week.

NATO defense ministers also met in Brussels and are expected to announce more promises of additional weapons to Kiev. US President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged $1 billion in new aid, including anti-ship missile systems, artillery rockets and howitzers.

“Every day, I fight for Ukraine to get the weapons and equipment it needs,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address to the nation.

Ukraine applied to join the European Union just four days after Russia invaded in February, and four days later Moldova and Georgia also applied.

“As of today, we are already much closer to obtaining this status than we could have dreamed of even a few years ago. Ukraine has done everything in its power to become a candidate,” Zelensky said.

Save Mr Putin’s face

Schulz, Macron and Draghi say they are staunch supporters of Ukraine who have taken major practical steps to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticized Schulze over what it sees as Germany’s slow delivery of arms and its reluctance to cut economic ties with Moscow, and this month drew ire from Macron for saying in an interview that Russia should not be “humiliated”.

Italy has also proposed a peace plan that the Ukrainians fear will pressure them to give up territory.

“They will say that we need to end the war that causes food problems and economic problems … and that we need to save Putin’s face,” Oleksiy Aristovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told Germany’s Bild newspaper beforehand. visit.

Germany’s defense minister said three multiple rocket launchers had been promised that they could be delivered to Kyiv in July or August, once the Ukrainians had been trained to use them.

Kyiv says it urgently needs more weapons, especially artillery and missiles, to counter Russia’s firepower advantage. Kyiv causes hundreds of casualties every day as the war enters a brutal attrition phase in the East.

After Moscow launched its “special military operation” claiming its goal was to disarm and “discredit” its neighbor, Ukraine repulsed an armored attack on Kyiv in March.

But since then, Russia has changed its aims and tactics, and is now trying to fortify the territories it occupies in the east and south, and to capture more by slowly advancing beyond intense artillery bombardment.

The main battle in recent weeks has broken out around the eastern city of Severodonetsk. Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant there on Wednesday with hundreds of civilians on board ignored the Russian order to surrender.

All remaining bridges connecting the city to Ukraine-controlled territory on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets have been destroyed in recent days, but Ukrainian officials say the garrison is not completely isolated.

Ukraine still holds a pocket of territory in the broader eastern Donbass region, which Russia has pledged to seize on behalf of its separatist proxies. Most are on the other side of the river that Russian forces have struggled to cross.

In the south, Ukrainian forces were slowly advancing into Kherson Province, the largest patch of territory Russia still held from areas it had occupied since the invasion.

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Additional reporting by Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graf, Editing by Angus McSwan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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