Volodymyr Zelenskiy has used a visit to Paris to urge Europe to deliver combat aircraft and heavy arms to Ukraine as soon as possible.
“The sooner Ukraine gets long-range heavy weaponry, the sooner our pilots get planes, the sooner this Russian aggression will end and we can return to peace in Europe,” the Ukrainian president said as he arrived at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday after a day of diplomacy in London.
On his first visit to Europe since the Russian invasion began almost one year ago, Zelenskiy met the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, together and appealed for more heavy arms.
Macron was firm in his support of Zelenskiy, saying France was determined to help Ukraine towards “victory, peace and Europe” as well as “the re-establishment of its legitimate rights”. He said Paris would “continue the efforts” to deliver arms to Kyiv, without giving more detail. Macron added: “Russia cannot and must not win.” He said “the future of Europe” was at stake in Ukraine.
Scholz called Ukraine part of the “European family”. He said Germany and its partners had backed Ukraine “financially, with humanitarian aid and with weapons”, adding: “We will continue to do so as long as necessary.”
Zelenskiy arrived late in the evening in Paris for a hastily organised working dinner at the Elysée with Macron and Scholz after visiting London, where he had made an emotional appeal for Britain and “the world” to supply Ukraine with fighter jets.
Germany recently gave the green light for Leopard battle tanks to be sent to Ukraine after an intense campaign by Zelenskiy and allied countries. Germany’s defence minister said Berlin hoped to deliver the first tank battalion to Ukraine by April.
In an interview published in Le Figaro on Wednesday night, Zelenskiy said Macron had undergone a significant change on his stance towards Ukraine after the French president had sought to keep channels open to Russia in the early phase of the conflict.
Zelenskiy had at times over the past year shown impatience with Macron, who had held frequent telephone talks with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, even after the invasion and had expressed concern that Russia should not be humiliated in any final settlement.
But Macron in recent months had indicated that France wanted to support Ukraine “all the way to victory” and would send light tanks, in a move that prompted Germany to follow suit with battle tanks.
“I think he [Macron] has changed,” Zelenskiy told Le Figaro. “And he’s changed for real this time. After all, he opened the door to tank deliveries. He also supported Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU. I believe it was a real signal. We had a lot of conversations with France, Germany and other countries. I believe that trust is real today.”
At the beginning of February, Paris pledged to deliver 12 new Caesar howitzer artillery systems, in addition to the 18 already delivered. And it is also not ruling out the transfer of fighter aircraft to Kyiv, which was previously a red line.
Ahead of the 24 February anniversary of Russia’s invasion, Scholz said it was clear that Moscow would not win, and assured Ukraine its future was in the EU. He said in a speech to the German parliament: “Putin will not achieve his goals – not on the battlefield and not through a dictated peace. That much, at least, is certain after a year of war.”
Zelenskiy was to spend the night in Paris before heading to Brussels on Thursday morning, where he was to attend an EU summit and urge the European Council, made up of the 27 leaders of the EU’s member states, to speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine.