Zelenskyy gives EU rallying cry on Brussels leg of European trip

Ukrainian President holds talks with EU's 27 leaders

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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a rallying cry to the EU on Thursday as he visited Brussels on the third leg of a rare foreign trip.

Mr Zelenskyy met leaders of the EU's 27 countries in Brussels as he seeks increased military support — especially promises of fighter jets for Ukraine.

In a cryptic remark at a press conference, he said leaders had given him "positive signals" on fighter aircraft but that he could not disclose details that would tip off Russia.

He also used his trip, which came after meetings in London and Paris on Wednesday, to press his case for Ukrainian membership of the EU.

Addressing EU institutions, he cast Ukraine as a defender of Europe's values and way of life against an aggressive Russia.

“We are defending against the most anti-European force of the modern world,” Mr Zelenskyy said, after receiving a standing ovation from the European Parliament.

“Europe will always be and remain Europe as long as we are together, as long as we take care of our Europe," he said.

He separately told EU leaders: "I am grateful to all of you who are helping, grateful to everyone who understands how much Ukraine right now needs these possibilities. We need artillery guns, shells for them, modern tanks, long-range missiles, modern aircraft."

Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Europe - in pictures

Mr Zelenskyy arrived in Brussels with French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted him in a late-evening meeting in Paris on Wednesday.

The French stop was squeezed in after Mr Zelenskyy spent most of Wednesday in London, where UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain would offer training for Ukrainian fighter jet pilots.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni questioned Mr Macron's antics as she arrived for the EU summit.

"Frankly, the invitation to Zelenskyy yesterday seemed more inappropriate to me, because I think our strength in this fight is unity," she told reporters.

Mr Macron said France had a "particular role" in the crisis.

Hosting the meeting, European Council president Charles Michel said the EU should continue to provide "maximum-level support".

"We understand that the coming weeks and months will be of decisive importance. We must remain open-eyed," he said.

Addressing Ukraine's EU accession prospects, Mr Michel said "the road to peace, reconstruction and membership will be a long, hard road".

Mr Zelenskyy said accession talks should start "this year, Charles. When I say this year, I mean this year, 2023."

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen separately said a next phase of sanctions would include export bans worth more than €10 billion ($10.7bn) and take on Kremlin propagandists.

"We will target Putin's propagandists because their lies are poisoning the public space in Russia and abroad", she said.

Mr Zelenskyy mingled with leaders including Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Bloomberg

On the weapons debate, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said: "It's very important that we speed up military aid to Ukraine. I think all of us looked in the warehouses at what we have. But we should do more."

The Kremlin reacted by warning against escalation.

"We see this as a growing engagement of Germany, UK, France in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The boundary between indirect and direct engagement is gradually disappearing. We can only regret it," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The Brussels leg of the trip had been in doubt after news that Mr Zelenskyy was expected leaked out from parliamentary sources.

Mr Zelenskyy's trip, only his second since Russia invaded last February, comes as Ukraine braces for an expected new Russian offensive.

Western allies have granted one Ukrainian wish by offering their most modern battle tanks to help Ukraine regain territory.

But no sooner was that debate settled than Mr Zelenskyy and his colleagues started lobbying for fighter jets - something Nato has previously baulked at.

On his London trip, Mr Zelenskyy handed over an airman's helmet inscribed with the words: "We have freedom; now give us wings to protect it."

Britain said it would begin training Ukrainian fighter pilots, but said on Thursday no decision had been made on whether to send jets.

"We take these decisions carefully and we do it thoughtfully. We are aware of potential escalatory risks," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman said.

Updated: February 09, 2023, 2:41 PM