Zelensky meets with European leaders and pushes for more weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is ready to pressure European leaders on Thursday in a summit in Brussels to provide the country with more weapons to support it in the fight against Russia, as well as an early start to EU accession talks.

In addition to attending the summit of the European bloc, Zelenskyj will give a speech to the European Parliament during his visit to the Belgian capital, the third leg of his trip to the continent.

While the Ukrainian president is unlikely to receive immediate commitments to meet his demands, the visit offers him the opportunity to present the issue himself to the 27 European Union leaders for the first time since the start of the Russian military operation in his country almost a year ago.

This is the second time Zelensky is known to have left his country since the start of the war, following a surprise visit to Washington in December.

The tour kicked off Wednesday from London, where it secured a British commitment to train Ukrainian pilots on NATO advanced fighter jets from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

He then met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris for table talks. They promised to continue supporting Ukraine and Zelensky again pressed for advanced weapons.

“France and Germany have the potential to change the rules of the game, and that’s how I see our talks today. The sooner we get heavy long-range weapons and our pilots get modern aircraft, the sooner this Russian aggression ends.” Zelensky said.

Western countries have not yet supplied aircraft or weapons that can strike deep into Russia.

The United States, which refuses to send F-16 fighter jets to Kiev, is expected to announce a $2 billion weapons package in the coming days that will include missiles and bombs that would double the range of those sent last year.

According to the Russian news agency Tass, the Russian embassy in Great Britain put in guard London from sending fighter planes in Ukraine, and said such a step would have repercussions for the whole world.

Request to start membership interviews

On the issue of EU membership, Ukrainian officials are pressing to start accession talks within months. In Paris, Scholz seemed to understand the concerns of Kyiv when he said on Wednesday: “I am sending a clear message to Brussels: Ukraine belongs to the European family.”

A Ukrainian official said his country was “absolutely confident that the decision to start accession negotiations can be taken quest’year”.

While some EU member states want to give Kiev a morale boost in the form of accession talks, others are more cautious, stressing that potential members must meet a number of criteria such as cracking down on corruption before they can even begin negotiations.

Intense fighting in the east

On the ground, the Ukrainian army command said in its Thursday morning report that Russian forces are trying to establish full control over the Dsk and Lugansk regions.

He added that in the past 24 hours, Russian forces have launched attacks in Kobyansk, Liman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka regions.