French, German, Italian leaders in Kyiv to show solidarity

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Kyiv on Thursday in a show of collective European support for Ukraine, marking the highest-profile visit to the country’s capital since Russia’s invasion, a day after the United States pledged $1 billion worth of new arms for embattled the Ukrainian forces.

The visit by three European leaders comes as Ukraine once again pleaded for more weapons to fend off Russian advances in the south and the east. Major-General Dmytro Marchenko, who leads Ukraine’s forces in Mykolaiv, said his troops could achieve victory over Russia if they are given the right weapons.

“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians,” Macron said as he arrived in Kyiv.

It is the first time that the leaders of the three European Union countries have visited Kyiv since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. The trip has taken weeks to organize with the three men looking to overcome criticism within Ukraine over their response to the war.

Kyiv has criticized France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, for alleged foot-dragging in their support for Ukraine, accusing them of being slow to deliver weapons and of putting their own prosperity ahead of Ukraine’s freedom and security.

The symbolic visit comes a day before the European Commission makes a recommendation on Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate, something the biggest European nations have been lukewarm about and are set to discuss at a leaders’ summit on June 23-24.

Asked why the visit was taking place now, an Elysee official said they had considered it was best to do it just before an EU summit next week that is due to discuss Kyiv’s bid to join the 27-naton bloc.

“The useful time for this visit was the European Council of 23/24, where a strong symbolic gesture is expected by the Ukrainians,” the Elysee official said.

“A balance has to be found between Ukraine’s natural aspirations to (join) the EU at a very special time, and attention to all the countries which already have candidate status and are stuck in the negotiation chapters and the fact that we must not destabilize the EU or fracture it.”

Speaking during a visit to neighboring Romania on Wednesday, Macron said that “we, the EU, need to send clear political signals to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who have been resisting heroically for several months.”

Other leading figures to have visited Ukraine since the start of the war include British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UN chief Antonio Guterres.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden unveiled the new arms package, featuring howitzers, ammunition, anti-ship missile systems and additional rockets for new artillery systems that Ukraine will soon put in the field.

In Brussels, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and other officials met Wednesday with some 50 countries of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the NATO headquarters asking for a surge in weapons and ammunition.

“Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore, it’s an urgent need to step up,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told journalists.

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