EU officials pledge solidarity with Ukraine, Zelensky says speed up sanctions

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arriving for a news briefing in Kyiv on Feb 2, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYIV - Ukraine urged the European Union on Thursday to impose more sanctions on Moscow, as some of the bloc’s top officials visited Kyiv in a show of solidarity that offered no quick path to membership during Russia’s invasion.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen led a delegation of more than a dozen officials that promised military, financial and political aid before the first anniversary of the Feb 24 invasion.

“Europe has been by Ukraine’s side since day one because we know the future of our continent is being written here... this is a fight of democracies against authoritarian regimes,” Ms von der Leyen told a news conference in Kyiv.

She had a first meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky shortly after her arrival, and the two leaders will hold a summit on Friday with Charles Michel, chairman of the EU’s 27 national leaders.

The West stepped up pledges to deliver more arms to Ukraine in January. But, unwilling to admit a country at war, the EU is set to dash Ukraine’s hopes of being swiftly allowed membership, underlining the need for more anti-corruption measures.

“Today, we are proposing to Ukraine to join key European programmes - this will give Ukraine benefits close to those of membership in many areas,” Ms von der Leyen said, without committing to any dates.

Mr Zelensky, who greeted Ms von der Leyen with kisses on the cheek, and said they had discussed a 10th EU sanctions package against Russia.

“We can see that the pace of Europe’s sanctions has slightly slowed down while the terrorist-state, on the contrary, is increasing its pace of adapting to sanctions,” he said, standing beside Ms von der Leyen.

The EU did, however, announce a doubling of the number of Ukrainian troops to be trained by the EU to 30,000 this year and promised €25 million (S$35 million) for demining areas recaptured by Ukraine.

‘Not there yet’

The EU’s top officials for foreign policy, migration, agriculture, economy and justice were also in Ukraine’s capital.

EU officials said talks included discussion of more arms and money for Ukraine as well as more access for Ukrainian products to the EU market, helping Kyiv cover energy needs, sanctions on Russia, prosecuting Russia’s leadership for the war and extending an EU no-roaming mobile calls zone to Ukraine.

The wealthy bloc has already earmarked almost €60 billion in aid to Ukraine, including nearly €12 billion of military support and €18 billion to help run the country this year, but declines to offer a fast-track to membership while Ukraine is at war.

“Some may want to speculate about the end game but the simple truth is that we are not there yet,” an EU official said.

EU officials have listed multiple entry requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws.

The EU is set to underline its commitment to supporting Ukraine’s “further European integration” after giving it membership candidate status last June and will decide on further steps once all conditions are “fully met”, according to a draft joint statement seen by Reuters.

Kyiv has cracked down on high-level corruption in recent days but the EU says Ukraine must build a credible track record over time to shed its reputation for endemic graft.

Ukraine’s calls for long-range rockets or fighter jets are set to be left unanswered by the EU this week, officials say, and it appears unlikely that looming new EU sanctions on Russia will meet expectations in Ukraine. REUTERS

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