What Ukraine's Zelenskyy hopes to achieve on Brussels trip

EU meeting follows talks in London and Paris on rare foreign visit

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Brussels to meet EU leaders. AP
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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday rounded off his whistle-stop European tour hoping for a breakthrough as he hunts for more weapons, including fighter jets, and lobbies for a fast-track accession to the bloc for his country.

In Brussels, Mr Zelenskyy raised the issue of fighter jets and aircraft during bilateral talks in small groups with the EU's 27 leaders gathered in the Belgian capital.

So far little information has filtered through from these talks which are shrouded in secrecy to avoid feeding sensitive information to Russia.

“On fighter jets, these debates are [conducted] in full secrecy,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters on arrival in Brussels.

“You have to make absolutely sure that you are not getting into an Article 5 direct confrontation between Nato and Russia,” he added.

Countries with a more hawkish approach to Russia have openly called for jets to be delivered to Ukraine.

“We don’t have fighter jets,” said Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. “But it’s my plea that everyone does what they can.”

European Council President Charles Michel said that it was “very important” to increase military support to Ukraine but did not mention jets during a joint press conference with Mr Zelenskyy.

Mr Michel's seemingly cautious approach contrasted with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola's firm support for jet donations earlier in the day.

Ms Metsola prompted a round of applause from MEPs when she said in a speech that EU countries must “as a next step” consider providing the “long-range systems and the jets” that Ukraine needs.

“We know the sacrifice that your people have endured for Europe and we must honour it not only with words but with action,” Ms Metsola said.

The European Parliament is among the weakest European institutions and it remains to be seen if European leaders will respond to such calls.

In his speech to the Parliament, Mr Zelenskyy made little mention of jets and depicted Ukraine as defending the bloc's European values in the face of Russian violence.

He did, however, focus more on security when he spoke to European presidents an hour later to thank them for their help, which has so far reached €67 billion ($72 billion), including support for Ukrainian refugees on the continent.

“I want to thank you again for understanding us, for supporting us, and understanding how much we need the artillery guns, the ammunitions, the modern tanks, the long-range missiles, and the modern fighter jets,” Mr Zelenskyy said. “We are very grateful to you for giving us this military support.”

Mr Zelenskyy also pleaded for Ukraine to quickly become a member of the bloc ― a process that has taken years or even decades for other countries in the past.

Ukraine gained candidate status in June. European leaders have repeatedly said that the embattled country would eventually join the EU, but have also said that Ukraine must respect the admission procedures applied to all aspirant members.

Mr Zelenskyy turned to Mr Michel during their joint press conference and said that formal negotiations should start later this year.

The hope of joining the EU represents strong motivation for the Ukrainian people to remain resilient after nearly a year of war, he added.

“We need it this year, this year, Charles, when I say this year, I mean this 2023,” Mr Zelenskyy told Mr Michel, prompting laughter from the audience.

“I'll do my best,” Mr Michel responded.

Mr Zelenskyy, on only his second known foreign trip since the war began, spent most of Wednesday in London where he addressed the British parliament and was received by King Charles III.

Apparently determined not to be upstaged, French President Emmanuel Macron squeezed in Mr Zelenskyy for a late-evening rendezvous in Paris after the Ukrainian President left London.

Mr Macron then joined him en route to Brussels. The EU meeting goes ahead despite security concerns, after news of the trip was leaked earlier in the week.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Britain — in pictures

What does Mr Zelenskyy want?

Mr Zelenskyy has used the trip to repeat his demands for more weapons, especially modern fighter jets, to give Ukraine air superiority over Russia.

In a pointed gesture in Britain, he brought an air force pilot's helmet as a gift that was inscribed with the words: “We have freedom; give us wings to protect it.”

In a more prosaic appeal in Paris, he said: “The sooner Ukraine gets long-range heavy weaponry, the sooner our pilots get planes, the sooner this Russian aggression will end and we can return to peace in Europe.”

His speech to the UK Parliament, littered with references to British culture and history, also seemed designed to touch the hearts of MPs and ensure their continued solidarity with Ukraine.

Aside from weapons, he urged them to tighten sanctions on Russia, establish a tribunal to prosecute Russian aggressors and find a way to compensate Ukraine for war losses.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave an airman's helmet to House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to make a point about fighter jets. Getty

What has he been promised?

Britain went furthest on Wednesday by saying it would start training Ukrainian fighter pilots on Nato-standard warplanes.

It did not say when or whether any planes would be provided, instead describing the training as a long-term investment.

But Downing Street said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has been asked to investigate what jets the UK could potentially give.

Mr Macron was more vague but said France would continue providing arms to Ukraine.

“France is determined to help Ukraine to victory and the re-establishment of its legitimate rights,” he said.

In Brussels, Mr Zelenskyy was cryptic about what results he had obtained during his meeting in Paris with Mr Macron, which was also attended by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“I would not want to announce many things publicly,” Mr Zelenskyy said. “We are working towards the enhancement of our capabilities, when we are talking about [the military] offensive, we are talking about equipment and about tanks, and I have received positive impressions from our meeting.”

The EU, which does not directly control weapons arsenals, was expected to discuss other wartime issues such as what to do with frozen Russian assets.

Mr Zelenskyy arrived in Paris late on Wednesday evening before travelling to Brussels. AP

What do European leaders want?

A piece of reflected glory, for starters. British politicians including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his predecessor Boris Johnson clearly enjoyed having Mr Zelenskyy to themselves on Tuesday.

Both received a personal shout-out during the speech by Mr Zelenskyy, who has forged an especially close bond with Mr Johnson.

The last-minute dash to Paris suggested Mr Macron did not want to miss out on that opportunity. Nor did Mr Scholz, who joined them in Paris.

Mr Macron won praise from his guest after previously irritating Ukraine with comments that appeared too friendly to Russia.

“I believe he has changed. And that he changed for real this time. After all, he opened the door to tank deliveries,” Mr Zelenskyy told French media.

In Brussels, the EU has for months given Mr Zelenskyy a standing invitation to address European leaders in person. Their wish has now been granted.

Mr Zelenskyy's references in his speech to the EU's founding fathers Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet seemed to make a positive impression on European leaders.

“You referred to the founding fathers of the EU, these key personalities in the wake of the Second World War who dreamt up this European project,” Mr Michel said.

“Our generation ― your generation now ― have come together to a common destiny,” he added.

But it did not go unnoticed that Mr Zelenskyy appeared to have left Berlin off his schedule, after an often fraught relationship between Germany and Ukraine.

“A different timetable would have been possible, in fact very likely, if Germany and the EU had shown clear leadership,” said German MP Tobias Winkler after Mr Zelenskyy first went to London.

Updated: February 10, 2023, 7:35 AM