German Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, representing the EU’s three largest economies, arrived in Ukraine on Thursday.
According to Macron, the trio traveled to the country to broadcast “a message of European unity to Ukrainians” in the midst of Russia’s war of aggression against the eastern European country.
- Biden announces another $1 billion in weapons for Ukraine
- Ukraine ignores Russian ultimatum for surrender in Severodonetsk
In addition to the three European leaders, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, also traveled to Ukraine. The four met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
‘[Esta viagem] it is a message of European unity to Ukrainians, of support to talk about the present and the future, because we know that the next few weeks will be very difficult”, said Macron in a brief statement.
The German Olaf Scholz, in turn, said, shortly before his arrival in Kiev, that the purpose of the trip is to guarantee solidarity and continuity of support for Ukraine.
“Not only do we want to show solidarity, we also want to ensure that the aid we are organizing – financial, humanitarian, but also weapons – will continue. And that we will continue with it as long as necessary for the struggle for Ukraine’s independence,” Scholz said.
However, members of the Ukrainian government have publicly expressed fears that the three leaders could use the visit to pressure the Ukrainian government to accept a peace agreement that is favorable to the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as a way of putting an end to the conflict. Germany and France have tumultuous relations with Kiev and members of the Ukrainian government regularly criticize what they call the “hesitation” of these two countries to support Ukraine with more weapons.
Recently, Macron said it was vital that the West not “humiliate” Putin. Currently, Russia occupies 20% of Ukraine’s territory. Macron and Scholz have also been criticized recently by Ukraine’s ally Poland because of the frequent contacts that the leaders of Germany and France have with Putin.
European leaders gather at the Mariinsky Palace in Kiev. — Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Macron, Scholz and Draghi traveled together during Wednesday to Thursday on a special train that departed from a station in Poland – which has not been identified.
The leaders traveled in different cars, but held a two-hour meeting to discuss their meeting with Zelensky. The three allowed themselves to be photographed during these conversations.
The Italian press highlighted the strong security measures that ensured the passage of the train as the scheme organized in Kiev, which will count on 300 members of the Ukrainian army.
The three leaders were greeted with air raid sirens in the Ukrainian capital as Russia continues to attack targets across the country. Ukrainian authorities said on Thursday that a Russian rocket launched overnight hit a northern Ukrainian suburb of Sumy, killing four people and wounding six.
Shortly after their arrival in Ukraine, the three leaders were photographed visiting Irpin, a town a few kilometers from Kiev that was the scene of fierce fighting in the early weeks of Russia’s invasion.
There, Scholz said Irpin had become a symbol of the “cruelty” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its violence. “Irpin, like Bucha, has become a symbol of the unimaginable cruelty of Russian war, of senseless violence,” Scholz said, referring to Bucha, a Ukrainian town that was the scene of massacres blamed on invading Russian forces. “The brutal destruction of this city is a warning: this war must end,” added Scholz.
Macron, on the other hand, denounced the “barbarism” that took place in the city. “It is a heroic city, marked by the stigmata of barbarism,” the French president told reporters.
The trio’s visit comes at a sensitive time, with Ukraine intensifying its grievances over the slow delivery of weapons by the West. Scholz has been the main target of complaints from Kiev. It has been common to see the Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, complain about German hesitation and denounce that the weapons promised by Berlin are not being delivered. In April, relations between Berlin and Kiev reached a low point after Kiev rejected a visit by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The leaders’ first joint visit also comes a week before the EU summit, where European leaders are due to discuss Ukraine’s desire to join the 27-nation bloc. Ukraine does not hide that it expects a very strong symbolic gesture at this meeting, such as a declaration of support for the country’s candidacy to the EU.
However, Kiev’s aspirations are viewed with reservations by several countries in the bloc. The French government, for example, insisted that “a balance must be found between Ukrainian aspirations” and those of other countries that are already negotiating their accession to the EU without “destabilizing or fracturing the EU”. Macron has also said that Ukraine’s accession could “take decades”.