KYIV: Air raid alerts sounded across Ukraine on Friday as European Union leaders were in the country’s capital to discuss further sanctions on Russia and Ukraine’s prospects of joining the European bloc with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The head of the EU’s executive commission and the chairman of the 27 EU national leaders travelled to Kyiv to demonstrate support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s launch of February 24 attacks on its neighbour approaches.
“There will be no let up in our resolve. We will also support you every step of the way on your journey to the EU,” EU chairman Charles Michel wrote on Twitter on Friday morning under a picture of himself on a central Kyiv square.
Zelensky is calling for more punitive measures against Russia by the European Union, but new sanctions the bloc is preparing for the anniversary are set to fall short of his government’s demands.
Kyiv applied to join the bloc days after Russia attacks last year. The EU has embraced the application, although it has rebuffed Ukraine’s calls for a fast track to membership while the country is at war.
“The EU will support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people against Russia’s ongoing war of aggression for as long as it takes,” Michel, Zelenskiy and EU executive commission head Ursula von der Leyen will say a joint statement, a draft of which was seen by Reuters in advance.
EU officials have listed multiple entry requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws.
The process is likely to take years.
“Some may want to speculate about the endgame but the simple truth is that we are not there yet,” an EU official said.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Friday rejected as a “hoax” media reports that US CIA Director William Burns had travelled to Moscow with a secret peace proposal that involved Ukraine ceding a fifth of its territory to Russia.
The Swiss newspaper Neue Z”.O1/4rcher Zeitung’s report, which said Burns had made a secret trip to Moscow last month to put forward the plan on behalf of the White House, has also been dismissed by Washington.
Asked whether Burns had travelled to Moscow or put forward a plan that involved Ukraine ceding 20% of its territory, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “That whole report is a hoax.”
EU officials said subjects discussed on Thursday included more arms, money and energy support for Ukraine, better access for its products in the EU market, tightened sanctions on Moscow, and efforts to prosecute Russian war crimes.
The German government has approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from stocks and is in talks on purchasing back 15 Gepard tanks from Qatar to send there, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported on Friday, citing government sources.
The Leopard 1s are not as advanced as Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged last week, but could be delivered sooner.
The EU has demanded more anti-corruption measures from Ukraine, which is perceived as having endemic state graft, saying it must build a credible track record.
To that end, Zelensky has announced dismissals and investigations of some officials the past two weeks, pointedly saying that the defence ministry needs to be clean.
Authorities were investigating senior military officials in two cases of suspected corruption, officials said on Thursday.
This content was produced in Russia, where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine.