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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Europe offers Ukraine a hope of joining the EU, but not a vast arsenal

By Andrew E. Kramer and Michael Levenson

European leaders on Thursday pledged support for putting Ukraine on a path to membership in the European Union but did not promise the country additional heavy weapons on the scale it says it needs to repel a bloody Russian advance in the east.

The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine in Kyiv, all agreed to support Zelenskyy’s push to take the first step toward membership in the bloc, potentially bringing the former Soviet republic closer to Western Europe’s sphere of influence.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said that he and his fellow leaders had come “with a clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family.”

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, is expected to announce on Friday its official recommendation on Ukraine’s application to become a formal candidate for membership. The approval process could take years.

The visiting leaders took pains to counter suggestions that they — particularly President Emmanuel Macron of France — would prefer a quick, negotiated end to the war, even if that rewarded Russian aggression with territorial gains.

“What I am saying today is that Ukraine must win this war,” Macron said.

The visit generated a mixed reaction in Ukraine, as the country moved closer to its long-sought goal of EU candidate status but did not gain major pledges of more long-range weapons to overcome Russia’s vast artillery advantage on the open plains of the eastern Donbas region.

“We expect new supplies, especially heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery and missile defense systems,” Zelenskyy said. “Each batch of supplies saves people’s lives. And every day of delays or postponed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians.”

Macron said that France would deliver six additional Caesar truck-mounted howitzers in the coming weeks, on top of the 12 already delivered. The United States has given Ukraine 108 long-range howitzers and this week promised several more.

But the deliveries and commitments are a fraction of the 1,000 howitzers that an adviser to Zelenskyy said are needed for battlefield parity in eastern Ukraine. Western commitments of rocket artillery systems, tanks and other gear fall similarly short of Ukrainian requests.

The Kyiv visit was shadowed by questions about whether European leaders would press Zelenskyy to pursue a peace deal with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, as concerns grow in European capitals over the costs of a protracted war and the risk of broader European involvement.

The Kremlin appeared to send an economic warning to EU leaders on Thursday, as Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas company, cut the flow to Europe’s most important natural gas pipeline for the second day in a row, making gas prices surge further.

Zelenskyy said the leaders had privately raised the prospect of negotiations with Moscow. But talks, he said, would not end the war.

“We touched on the theme of diplomatic efforts of various countries to achieve peace,” he said. “Everybody sees the only obstacle to all these efforts is the unreadiness of the Russian Federation for real actions, for real negotiations.”

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