The presence is the message. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; The High Representative of the EU for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, and the Slovak Prime Minister, Eduard Heger, traveled this Friday to the same city of kyiv that Russian troops were already encircling on the third day of the invasion. The symbolic component of the diplomatic visit – the highest level in the city in 44 days of war – is clear, after the Russian withdrawal from the surroundings of the country’s capital to concentrate its offensive in the south and east of the territory, where A Kramatorsk train station attack killed at least 39 people on Friday. The European delegation also undertook to increase the amount intended to supply arms to the attacked country, which will now amount to 1,500 million euros.
This is precisely the message that Borrell wanted to emphasize upon his arrival in kyiv: “Ukraine controls its territory. It is not an invaded, dominated country. There is still a government that receives people from abroad and you can go to Kyiv”. To reinforce this idea, the head of Community diplomacy also announced the reopening of the EU diplomatic mission. “I can confirm that the EU is coming back to Kyiv. It’s literal: our head of delegation is returning to Kyiv, so we can work even more directly and closely,” he said.
She also said that an additional 500 million euros will be allocated to supply arms to Ukraine, bringing the European peace mechanism funds for this purpose to 1,500 million. Arriving at a summit of foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Borrell said “what Ukraine really needs is more weapons, less applause and more weapons”. “Good words, fine. But the important thing is the practical issues, more resources, more military capability to resist Russian aggression,” he said.
Shortly after the arrival of European leaders, the massacre of civilians in Kramatorsk who were trying to flee the war became known. Borrell condemned it on Twitter and defined it as “one more attempt to close the avenues of escape for those fleeing this unjustified war.”
European leaders visited Bucha, a town northwest of kyiv whose images of dead civilians – some handcuffed – in the streets and mass graves prompted the first sanctions against the Russian energy sector and the expulsion of Moscow of the UN Human Rights Council with 79% of valid votes.
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The three representatives are meeting this Friday afternoon in kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodímir Zelenski to express “the EU’s full solidarity with Ukraine against the invasion by Russia” and to discuss “the support that the The EU is providing and will continue to provide to Ukraine in these difficult circumstances,” EU executive chief spokesman Eric Mamer said on Thursday. A meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmihal is also scheduled. And on Saturday they will take part in a fundraising event for war refugees in Warsaw.
The trip of European leaders is marked by strong security measures. The location of the press conference after the meeting with Zelensky was kept secret, and journalists were summoned at the last minute to a meeting point. Already early in the morning, the Slovak Prime Minister confirmed on Twitter the arrival in Kyiv from Przemsil station a few minutes after Borrell announced that they were on their way and Von der Leyen expressed his desire to reach the capital. Ukrainian presidential spokesman Sergii Nikiforov had already said at the time that hardly any details would be announced for security reasons.
The Slovak Prime Minister also said he would offer Zelenski his country’s help to sell Ukrainian wheat and contain the increase in its price in the world, of 22% since the beginning of the Russian invasion. The proposal is that Ukraine, a major producer of this cereal, exports it via the logistics hub of Kosice, a Slovak city very close to the Hungarian border and a few dozen kilometers from Ukraine.
Borrell, Von der Leyen and Heger brought kyiv a recent achievement in the suitcase: the first sanctions against the Russian energy sector. The fifth package of measures, approved on Thursday, includes a ban on imports of Russian coal that was not in the draft a week ago. Viktor Orbán’s Hungary opposes any other measure, such as closing the tap on Russian oil or gas.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba, however, deemed them insufficient: “We will continue to insist on a total embargo on Russian oil and gas, on the withdrawal of SWIFT [el sistema internacional de pagos interbancarios] to all Russian banks […]. I hope we will not again be faced with a situation where, to intensify the sanctions pressure, we need atrocities like Bucha to come to light.
This is the second visit by EU representatives after that made last week by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, who also met Zelenski. On March 15, when the situation around Kyiv was more dangerous, Polish Prime Ministers Mateusz Morawiecki traveled with his Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski; from Slovenia, Janez Jansa, and from the Czech Republic, Petr Fiala, in an initiative from which the European Commission has distanced itself.
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