HomeWorldHeading to Ukraine, leaders of France and Germany face tense reception

Heading to Ukraine, leaders of France and Germany face tense reception

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy are expected to pay their first visit to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday in what is intended to be a show of solidarity as their beleaguered country struggles to hold the line against Russian forces.

But they will come as complaints grow more desperate in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv about slow arms deliveries, and as complaints mount in Europe’s corridors of power about how much longer the war could last, with their deepening economic cost by taxing their nations and beginning to divide European voters.

Along with their American allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy have been adamant in their support for Ukraine, saying when and how to negotiate an end to the war with Russia it’s up to them. the Ukrainians themselves.

However, Zelensky has criticized them for not doing enough to back Ukraine against a better-armed Russia. Draghi, a well-respected technocrat with strong relations across the bloc, has used his considerable gravitas to mend relations with Zelensky, but the other two leaders will come on cool terms with their Ukrainian counterpart.

Chancellor Scholz of Germany has become the main target of Kyiv’s criticism. Under pressure to visit for months, a pilgrimage made by a long series of European leaders, he long insisted that he did not want to make the trip just for “a photo shoot”. He would come up with something “concrete”, he promised himself last month.

On the eve of Thursday’s visit, it was unclear what he would bring.

Although Germany has promised a number of heavy weapons in the coming months, no new weapons deliveries will be announced on Thursday, said two German officials, who like their counterparts and diplomats across the continent spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized. to speak to the press. An expected signal of support for Ukraine’s candidacy for European Union membership could be more symbolic than concrete.

Macron has also taken issue with Zelensky over the French president’s repeated comments that Russia should not be humiliated in order to preserve a diplomatic “off-ramp” from the war. Speaking from Romania on Wednesday, Macron said France and Europe would continue to help Ukraine with financial, military and humanitarian aid, but also wanted peace.

“At some point, when we have done everything to help resist, when, I hope, Ukraine will have won and the shooting will stop, we will have to negotiate,” Macron said. “The president of Ukraine and its leaders will have to negotiate with Russia, and we Europeans will be around that table.”

Formal peace talks have long been stalled between Ukraine and Russia as the war has turned into a grueling artillery battle in which Russia appears to have an advantage. Many in Kyiv have come to see European peace talks, even if in the distant future, as a covert pressure to compromise at the expense of the territory.

Regardless of what Scholz and Macron may offer, the Kyiv government has no shortage of concrete demands, from speeding up Ukraine’s EU membership to implementing tougher sanctions against Russia and, most importantly, providing faster deliveries of heavy weapons.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Zelensky, this week Twitter listing what it would take to push Russian forces back to Ukraine’s prewar borders: 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles, 1,000 drones, 300 rocket launchers, and 1,000 howitzers.

The United States and other nations have rushed to send weapons, but Ukrainian officials, while emphasizing their gratitude, say it is not enough. Germany, which has already shipped some €350 million worth of small arms and military equipment to Ukraine, has also pledged seven howitzers, a few dozen of its Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, three long-range multiple rocket launchers complete with ammunition, and a tracking. radar to help the Ukrainian military locate sources of Russian heavy artillery with the sophisticated IRIS-T air defense system.

So far, none of the heavy weapons have arrived.

The howitzers are due to be delivered in the coming weeks, the tanks and rocket launchers by the end of the summer, and the air defense system by October at the earliest, German officials said.

“You can’t fight with promises, they don’t help on the battlefield,” Podolyak told Der Spiegel magazine on Wednesday, adding that he hoped the visit to Kyiv would convince Scholz to do more.

The speed and scale of arms donations to Ukraine have also been a persistent source of criticism for Scholz from within Germany.

Even allies of the Scholz government say he bears some of the blame for these perceptions, arguing that he has repeatedly resisted candid public appeals and explanations that could shed light on the problems facing Germany and its reasons for supporting Ukraine.

Scholz, whose Social Democratic Party has a long history of being soft on Russia, has been ambiguous about the desired end of the war, saying Russia must not win and Ukraine must not lose. He has not said that Ukraine must win.

“They have promised a lot of things, but so far nothing has been delivered, zero,” said Norbert Röttgen, a Conservative lawmaker and member of the foreign affairs committee.

“It is the clear intention of the government not to deliver heavy weapons, there is no other way to explain it,” he added.

Scholz has insisted that the weapons will reach Ukraine. “We will hand over all the weapons we have on the way,” he said Monday.

Leaders are also likely to have mixed responses to Ukraine’s bid for EU membership, an aspiration linked to its fight against Russia since 2014.

The European Commission is expected to recommend granting Ukraine candidate status on Friday, but the decision, which is fundamentally political, will be left to EU leaders who meet in Brussels next week.

However, even the gesture of granting the candidacy to Ukraine, rather than any accelerated membership, which is off the table, is complex. EU officials and diplomats said European leaders are likely to give Zelensky a foretaste of a positive decision, but with caveats.

At home, leaders face a public resolve to back Ukraine that is wearing thin because the war, with no end in sight, is costing economies beyond the borders of Ukraine and Russia, affecting crops, supply chains, supply and price of gas.

Foreign survey in 10 european countries by the European Council on Foreign Affairs, published on Wednesday, showed that most Europeans wanted Ukraine to make peace with Russia immediately, even if it meant losing territory. A smaller percentage of people believed that only Russia’s military defeat could bring peace.

In nine of the countries surveyed, including France, Germany and Italy, the majority said they preferred immediate peace. Only in Poland, Ukraine’s strongest ally in the EU, did more respondents prioritize defeating Russia.

That popular sentiment has been fueling the mood of political leaders regarding Ukraine, with notable exceptions in Poland and the Baltic states.

Several senior officials and diplomats from the European Union, the North Atlantic Alliance Organization and European countries said that, in the meetings on Ukraine, there was a growing sense of irritation over Zelensky’s rejection of calls to find a diplomatic pause in the struggle, as well as his incessant demands for more help.

A senior European government official said his government was not prepared for the battle for Donbas, the focus of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, to cost its people jobs.

And a seasoned European diplomat said the European Union faced a dilemma it had helped create: leaders had so fervently backed Ukraine and elevated Zelensky’s personal status in public, securing broad voter support, that any anything but full support for him. to generate outrage.

aurelien breeden Y Erika Solomon contributed report.

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