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Leaders of France, Germany, Italy visit Ukraine to underscore support despite criticism
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi made their first wartime visit to Kyiv on June 16. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis joined them in Ukraine's capital.
The four leaders visited Irpin, a Kyiv suburb, where Russian troops committed atrocities. After their return, Macron, Scholz, Draghi, and Iohannis backed Ukraine's bid to become an official EU candidate.
"All four of us support the status of immediate candidate for membership," Macron said at a joint press conference after meeting President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Chancellor Scholz delivered a similar statement: "Germany is in favor of a positive decision for Ukraine. This also applies to the Republic of Moldova," he said, adding that the four came to Kyiv to deliver "a clear message that Ukraine belongs to the European family."
The comments broke with a longstanding tradition of France and Germany being hesitant to endorse Ukraine's aspiration to join the EU. In late May, Draghi said all big EU countries, apart from Italy, were against giving Ukraine candidate status.
The joint statement in support of Ukraine's candidate bid came a week before the European Council is set to rule on whether to support Ukraine's plea. For the bid to be accepted, all 27 member states must support the decision.
Since 2019, an aspiration to join the EU has been enshrined in Ukraine's constitution. Before Russia's full-scale invasion, the EU members were hesitant to discuss the possibility of granting Ukraine candidate status, which many experts saw as an attempt not to provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After Feb. 24, Ukrainian officials pressed for fast-track EU membership.
"We are at a turning point in our history. The Ukrainian people defend every day the values of democracy and freedom that underpin the European project, our project. We cannot wait. We cannot delay this process," Draghi said during the press conference.
"We will rebuild everything"
Before meeting with Zelensky, four leaders toured Irpin, a town northeast of the capital devastated by Russia's war in February-March. Officials were united in condemnation of the Russian attacks.
Iohannis wrote on Twitter that there are "no words to describe the unimaginable human tragedy and horrible destruction" and called for "all Russian perpetrators to be held responsible by the international criminal justice system."
In turn, Draghi vowed to "rebuild everything".
"We will rebuild everything. They destroyed the kindergartens, they destroyed the children's gardens. Everything will be rebuilt," Draghi said.
Criticism for inconsistent support
Shortly after the leaders arrived in Kyiv by train, they were greeted at the station with an air raid siren, a reminder of Russia's ongoing war.
Macron said they brought "a message of unity" and support, adding that the coming weeks "as we know, will be very, very difficult."
The joint symbolic trip came as Ukraine was losing over 200 soldiers a day killed and hundreds injured, lacking weapons to defend the country's east.
Ukrainian officials have been vocal in their criticism of Western leaders for being slow in providing the necessary equipment Ukraine was asking for.
Hanna Maliar, deputy Defense Minister, said this week that Ukraine has received only about 10% of the weapons requested from the West.
The primary target of criticism coming from Ukraine was Germany, which President Volodymyr Zelensky slammed for delayed weapon deliveries.
"Germany must reject a balancing act between Ukraine and Russia. We need Chancellor Scholz to give us the certainty that they will support Ukraine," Zelensky said in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF just two days before the visit.
France and Italy were similarly criticized for what many observers saw as a willingness to compromise with Putin. In particular, Macron's comments that Russia "must not be humiliated despite a historic mistake" have not only been met with criticism in Ukraine but have also put him at odds with other EU member states, such as Poland and Estonia.
Yet in Kyiv, Scholz, Macron, and Draghi found the right words. During the press conference, Macron announced the delivery of six additional Caesar self-propelled gun-howitzers to Ukraine. The previous shipment of six Caesar howitzers is already in use on the front line.
Zelensky said that the more weapons Ukraine receives, the faster it can liberate the territories occupied by Russia.
"Every day of delay or postponed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians or destroy our cities," Zelensky said. "There is a direct correlation - the more powerful weapons we receive, the faster we can liberate our people, our land."
Scholz earlier said Berlin intends to expand its military aid to Ukraine and supply additional weapons. This includes air-defense systems and an artillery detection radar, among other things, he noted.