Several air raid sirens wailed in Kyiv as French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi began a combined tour to express Ukraine’s solidarity in its struggle against the Russian invasion.
The three landed in Kiev early Thursday after traveling overnight on a train intended to bring high-profile guests to Ukraine.
“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians, of support, to talk both about the present and the future, since the coming weeks, as we know, will be very difficult,” Macron said as they arrived.
Macron, who had been chastised at home and abroad for not visiting Ukraine sooner, has repeatedly said that he would only go if and when the visit could be “useful” rather than merely a show of solidarity.
It was unclear what tangible actions he would announce.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis will join the three for meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which are anticipated to cover both Kyiv’s desire to join the EU and the conflict itself.
The visit has taken weeks to plan, with the three men hoping to overcome internal Ukrainian criticism of their reaction to the conflict.
“We’re here, we’re focused, we will join President Zelenskiy to go to a war site where massacres have been carried out,” Macron added.
According to BFM TV, the leaders were on their way to Irpin, where Ukraine claims Russia perpetrated mass crimes. The charges are denied by Russia.
Asked why the visit was taking place now, an Elysee official said they had felt it was best to do it soon before an EU conference next week that is set to address Kyiv’s request to join the 27-nation group.
The European Union’s leadership is poised to recommend on Friday that Ukraine become a formal applicant for membership of the union, diplomats and officials say.
That would be a big political gesture to the nation as it fights Russia’s invasion, but EU leaders remain divided on the issue.
“A balance has to be found between Ukraine’s natural aspirations to (join) the EU at a very special time, and attention to all the countries which already have candidate status and are stuck in the negotiation chapters and the fact that we must not destabilise the EU or fracture it,” said the Elysee official.
Zelenskiy is anticipated to encourage his guests to deliver additional armaments to assist his beleaguered forces in repelling the Russian invasion.
Kyiv has accused France, Germany, and, to a lesser degree, Italy of dragging their feet in their assistance for Ukraine, claiming that they have been hesitant to send weaponry and have prioritized their own wealth above Ukraine’s independence and security.
According to a high-ranking official from an EU member, Zelenskiy is “in a really difficult position: the Ukrainian army not only needs weapons, but is also increasing lack of soldiers.”
An aide to Zelenskiy, Oleksiy Arestovych, told the German tabloid Bild this week that he was afraid the three leaders would put pressure on Kyiv to accept a peace settlement favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In response to this issue, Draghi said on Tuesday that it was critical for peace negotiations to begin as soon as possible, but that they must be “on terms that Ukraine deems acceptable”
Ukraine has been especially critical of Germany’s military assistance, and the country’s envoy to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, told German network NTV that Scholz was expected to give over heavy weaponry that had been long promised but had not yet been delivered.
Scholz has denied charges that he has withheld critical military assistance, claiming that Germany is one of Ukraine’s largest military and financial allies and that it is taking time to train Ukrainian troops to utilize the advanced artillery weapons that it is providing.