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In a historic visit to Brussels on Feb. 9, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the European Parliament as the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion approaches, saying that the EU and Ukraine are fighting together against the “biggest anti-European force of the modern world."
Thanking EU leaders for their support from the early days of the 2022 invasion, Zelensky asked for more weapons to achieve “common victory” as his country’s soldiers hold out against brutal Russian assaults on the battlefield.
Zelensky warned EU lawmakers that Europe is facing “a dictator with a mad stockpile of weapons, as well as weapons from other dictatorships, in particular, the Iranian regime,” and that the Kremlin is “absolutely cynically, consistently destroying what we see at the core of our Europe.”
“The sacred value of human life has been completely destroyed in Russia," Zelensky said.
“All 140 million” Russian citizens are just “bodies capable of carrying weapons” for the Kremlin.
"The supremacy of violence and obedience – these are rules in place of law,” he added.
Receiving a huge round of applause at the Parliament as he finished up his 15-minute speech, Zelensky emphasized that Ukraine was fighting for the “European way of life” and vowed that his country would keep fighting as long as it takes.
Ukraine officially applied for EU membership in late February 2022, just days after Russia began bombing Kyiv and other cities, and was later granted candidacy status unexpectedly in June.
Ukraine’s road to full EU membership is expected to take years. Ukraine has suffered from endemic corruption, and the slow progress of judicial reforms was a cause for concern before Russia plunged the country into a full-scale war.
It often takes many years for candidate countries to have accession negotiations opened by the EU. Macron said in May 2022 that it could take “decades” for Ukraine to join the bloc.
While Ukraine’s hopes of a fast track to full EU membership have not materialized, on Feb. 3 the EU hailed Ukraine's "considerable efforts" in recent months toward a potential membership.
Before moving to the urn-shaped Europa building for a summit with leaders of the 27 EU member states, where Zelensky will speak in person for the first time since the invasion, he took a moment to thank his allies for standing with his country.
“We are defending ourselves on the battlefield, we Ukrainians, together with you,” Zelensky said during the speech.
“Our victory will guarantee the victory of our European values,” he added.
“I am here in order to defend our people’s way home (to Europe).”
Zelensky also praised Europe for “finally” eliminating its “destructive dependence” on Russian fossil fuels and “cleansing” itself off of corrupt Russian oligarchic businesses.
Since the February invasion, the EU has taken actions to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and oil and has passed nine rounds of sanctions against Moscow for waging war against Ukraine. The EU said last week that it is preparing a new round of sanctions by Feb. 24, the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion.
Ukraine has reiterated that the only way for it to achieve victory is if its Western allies provide enough advanced weapons to push Russian forces out of the country.
Zelensky’s appearance at the Parliament comes amid his second known international trip, which he began with a surprise visit to London, followed by an overnight stay in Paris where the president met with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Zelensky has already gained some positive gestures from Western leaders, including from U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose office confirmed on Feb. 8 that the U.K. would begin training Ukrainian fighter pilots on NATO aircraft.
A Downing Street spokesman told reporters following the Zelensky-Sunak meeting that the Prime Minister had asked U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to start “investigating what jets we might be able to give — but to be clear, this is a long-term solution.”
Standing beside Zelensky at the Parliament on Feb. 9, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola called on member states to quickly consider providing Ukraine with fighter jets.
"You need to win and now (EU) member states must consider quickly as the next step providing long-range systems and the jets that you need to protect your liberty,” Metsola said.
“Ukraine is Europe, and your nation's future is in the European Union,” Metsola, who held an EU flag with Zelensky after his speech, added.