D-Day memorials in France held amid increased tension with Russia

New defence contracts are expected to be signed on Friday between Ukraine and France

French President Emmanuel Macron, his wife Brigitte Macron, US President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, attend a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. AP
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Democracy is under threat more than at any time in the past eight decades, US President Joe Biden said on Thursday at a ceremony to mark the Second World War D-Day landings, as tension between the West and Russia is increasing.

Speaking in the French town of Colleville-sur-Mer, Mr Biden said world democracy was more at risk than at any point since the war ended in 1945.

Isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today,” he said.

Paying homage to American and allied soldiers who fought on the Normandy beaches in June 1944, Mr Biden stressed that “strong alliances” were key.

“What the allies did together 80 years ago far surpassed anything we could have done on our own,” he said.

“It was a powerful illustration of how alliances – real alliances – make us stronger, a lesson that I pray we Americans never forget.”

Mr Biden said the US would not abandon Ukraine, which has been battling invading Russian forces for more than two years.

“We will not walk away because if we do, Ukraine will be subjugated and it will not end there,” he said.

“Ukraine's neighbours will be threatened, all of Europe will be threatened,” Mr Biden said, describing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “tyrant bent on domination”.

“There are things that are worth fighting and dying for. Freedom is worth it. Democracy is worth it."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took centre stage at the Omaha Beach ceremony in Normandy, greeting and hugging some of the 200 Second World War veterans at the event.

One veteran, Robert Persichitti, died at a hospital in Germany while on his way to France from the US. He was 102 years old.

Mr Zelenskyy sought to portray himself as continuing their fight for freedom in his war against Russia.

"Allies defended Europe's freedom then, and Ukrainians do so now. Unity prevailed then, and true unity can prevail today" he wrote on X.

Dozens of world leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the UK's Prince William, attended various events in France on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the allied landing in Normandy that liberated Europe from Nazi Germany.

The recent escalation in tensions between western capitals and Moscow, after Kyiv was authorised to strike Russian troops on Russian soil, was expected to dominate discussions.

France was preparing to further support Ukraine's ability to launch long-range missile strikes against Russia, before Mr Zelenskyy's fourth official visit on Friday since Russia invaded his country in 2022.

Mr Putin responded to western approval for strikes inside Russia by warning that he could provide long-range missiles to allied countries to hit western targets.

The Kremlin has taken particular aim at France, saying French military instructors in Ukraine would be a legitimate target.

Russia has been excluded from the D-Day commemorations. Speaking in Moscow, Mr Putin sent a message to western leaders that Russia should not be treated as a foe.

“Don't form an image of Russia as an enemy. You are only hurting yourselves with this, do you understand? You have made up that Russia wants to attack Nato,” he said, raising the divisions over Ukraine.

“If you want to stop the hostilities in Ukraine, stop supplying weapons and these hostilities will stop in two, three months maximum.

“We call on no one to interfere in a possible peace process.”

Kharkiv context

Concern for Ukraine grew among its allies after a Russian offensive against the town of Kharkiv, which pushed Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to publicly back Mr Zelenskyy's demands to strike at Russian troops massed across the border.

Mr Macron said last month that Ukraine should be allowed to strike at Russian military bases inside Russia that were used to fire missiles at Ukraine.

He told the French public broadcaster that he will announce on Friday a new co-operation with Ukraine, and said the sale of French-made combat aircraft, the Mirage 2005, would “allow Ukraine to protect its soil, its airspace” against Russian attacks.

Mr Macron did not specify how many Mirages France would provide, or by when or under what financial terms.

He said France has proposed that Ukrainian pilots be trained in France from this summer.

Mr Macron said France had also proposed to train 4,500 Ukraine soldiers. He did not say where the soldiers would be trained, but he said that at the moment there are no French military trainers on Ukrainian soil.

Ukraine's western backers, including the US, had drawn a red line on Ukraine attacking Russian troops on Russian territory out of fear of escalation with a nuclear power.

Speaking to reporters before Mr Zelenskyy's visit, advisers to Mr Macron said that France's military support to Ukraine focused on “long-range strikes”.

This includes “the supply of the A2SM guided bombs … and also on the supply of Scalp missiles, which have had a great effect in the conduct of the war”.

They said that Mr Macron's comments must be understood in the context of the offensive against Kharkiv.

“It is in this logic that he authorised strikes that are not in very great depth, but a response to a 'front line logic',” they said.

“We are well within the framework of international law and the ability to defend oneself in the case of self-defence, with targets that can be on Russian territory as long as these are places used to target Ukrainian territory.

“This is the case of Kharkiv.”

Mr Macron was scheduled to give a live interview to French TV on Thursday evening to discuss Ukraine, the European elections and Gaza.

80th anniversary of D-Day – in pictures

Mr Biden will also be in Paris on Friday, but no meeting is scheduled at this stage between the three leaders.

The Ukrainian President will sign at least two contracts with Mr Macron.

The first will allow the French Agency for Development to extend its activities in Ukraine with a budget of €400 million ($435 million) in loans and €50 million in grants until 2027.

A second contract will establish a €200 million fund to support Ukrainian critical infrastructure, including energy, which has been under heavy Russian attack.

Mr Zelenskyy's visit will also be “an opportunity to highlight the strengthening of the co-operation between France and Ukraine's defence industries”, Mr Macron's advisers said.

Announcements are expected to include European defence company KNDS, which will be extending its activities to Ukraine.

This comes after a conference in support of Ukraine on February 26, which identified the joint production of weapons in Ukraine as a priority.

Updated: June 07, 2024, 6:52 AM