BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers, already heading home with heaps of goodwill, promises of more military aid and, as hardware goes, France’s highest medal of honor.
The European Union’s 27 leaders were awaiting the man in khaki in Brussels on Thursday, hoping to impress on him that the powerful bloc is steadfast in its support of embattled Ukraine as Russia is feared to be making moves for a new offensive around the Feb. 24 one-year anniversary of the war.
Flying in from Paris with President Emmanuel Macron, who honored him with the Grand Cross of France’s Legion of Honor, Zelenskyy will be stepping up from a half-dozen video addresses to the EU leaders over the past year to use his impressive aura and oratory skills in person to make sure that nothing stalls in Europe’s steadfast support.
“The fact remains the same: Russia must not win this war,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
That need was especially pressing Thursday. A U.S.-based think tank reported that the Russian forces “have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive” in the eastern, largely occupied, Luhansk region.
“Russian sources are widely reporting that conventional Russian troops are attacking Ukrainian defensive lines and making marginal advances,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its most recent report.
Zelenskyy will be using the dais of the European Parliament to make his point in a plenary session, hoping to match Wednesday’s speech to Britain’s legislature when he thanked the nation for its unrelenting support.
That same support has come from the EU. The bloc and its member states have already backed Kyiv with some 50 billion euros in aid, provided military hardware and imposed nine packages of sanctions on the Kremlin.
After the solemn words at parliament, Zelenskyy will move to the urn-shaped Europa building for a working session with the 27 leaders.
Macron’s office has already confirmed the bloc “will reiterate Europeans’ unwavering support to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.” Few would expect anything less.
The EU is in the midst of brokering a new sanctions package worth some 10 billion euros ahead of the Feb. 24 one-year anniversary of the war. And there is still plenty of scope for exporting more military hardware to Ukraine as a Russian spring offensive is expected.
One topic that was not on the agenda in Britain but will be in Brussels is Ukraine’s desire to become a member of the European Union as soon as possible.
A high-profile visit to EU headquarters can only add to the goodwill to help his country on to the road of accession talks. Ukraine is talking about joining the EU in a matter of years, while practice has shown it can take decades before aspiring members are considered fit to join.
Zelenskyy well knows that the EU sometimes moves at a snail’s pace while he himself had to be lightning fast to stave off an early Russian victory and set up a defense of his vast nation that very few would have deemed possible a year ago.
Now, after initial hesitation, EU nations have finally started to step up their military contributions as well.
Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced Tuesday that they plan to provide Ukraine with at least 100 refurbished German-made Leopard 1 battle tanks in the coming months. The announcement followed Germany agreeing last month to allow deliveries of the more modern Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Beyond EU top officials like summit host Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Zelenskyy should find time for bilateral meetings with leaders to press for more hardware, ranging from ammunition to warplanes — something the bloc as a whole does not possess but individual countries do.