Macron, Scholz, Draghi and Iohannis agree: "Ukraine belongs to the European family"

European leaders, who have witnessed the warning of the air raid alarms, have promised new arms shipments, and agreed on the need to grant Kiev the status of candidate for EU membership as soon as possible

AFP/LUDOVIC MARIN  -   From left, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, France's President Emmanuel Macron and Romania's President Klaus Iohannis meet for a working session at the Mariinsky Palace, Kyiv, Ukraine, 16 June.

The first visit of the four European leaders - Macron, Scholz, Draghi and Iohannis - to Ukraine has come to an end with the shared idea that Ukraine must become an "immediate candidate for membership", as French President Emmanuel Macron has stated. 

"The most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the European Union (EU), wants it to have candidate status and will support this position at the next European Council. Zelenski knows that there is a way to go, not just a step," were the words of the Italian President after the meeting of the four leaders with Zelenski. The Union is "at a turning point", and now Ukraine "will have to see deep reforms", he added. 

Shortly after the arrival of Scholz, Macron and Draghi by train in the Ukrainian capital, sirens sounded warning of a possible air strike, a reminder of the situation the country has been facing since 24 February. This was reported by the correspondent of the German NTV channel in Kiev, who said that, although the alarm is activated two to three times a day, it had not sounded for about 48 hours. 

PHOTO/AP - Emmanuel Macron, Volodymir Zelenski, Olaf Scholz, Mario Draghi and Klaus Iohannis during their visit to Ukraine in support of the country

The incident did not prevent the European representatives from visiting the nearby town of Irpin, where they toured streets that witnessed the Russian attacks amid heavy security and condemned the actions of the Kremlin troops. Irpin is "a destroyed place", Macron said, claiming to have seen "the traces, the stigmata of barbarism", of "war crimes". "You have the world on your side," Italian President Mario Draghi told Oleksiy Kuleba, head of the region's military administration. "This is a place of destruction, but also of hope. We have heard from the Ukrainian authorities words of pain, but also of hope and future," he added. 

The town of Irpin, like Bucha and Borodianka, is known to have been the scene of war crimes perpetrated by Russian troops. Mariupol, which is now under Moscow's control, is also on this list, with suspicions that its territory hides mass graves that could contain up to 20,000 corpses.

The leaders of France, Italy, Germany and Romania met with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenski for lunch and a rapprochement of positions in an event intended to symbolise European support for the Kiev government. "A pleasure to meet with the president of France, the chancellor of Germany, the prime minister of Italy, and the president of Romania," Zelenski said on his Telegram account about a meeting that resulted, among other things, in the promise of new arms shipments from France. 

PHOTO/REUTERS - Emmanuel Macron, Zelenski, Olaf Scholz, Mario Draghi y Klaus Iohannis , en Kiev

The Elysée leader announced, during the subsequent press conference, that six Caesar heavy self-propelled self-propelled guns would be sent to the Ukrainian forces, in addition to the 12 already sent so far. This announcement comes in response to Kiev's insistence that the West send new shipments of arms and ammunition to confront Russian troops, and seems to contradict previous declarations made by Paris, which claimed it did not want to provoke the Kremlin. 

In addition, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted his thanks "for accepting the invitation to participate in the upcoming G7 summit" in Berlin. This will be followed by the NATO summit in Madrid, where President Zelenski will also be present. The visit comes at a key moment for European diplomacy; the G7 and Atlantic meetings will be preceded by the European Commission meeting on Friday, which will decide whether or not to grant Ukraine candidate status.

PHOTO/AFP - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

"Of course, I welcome the fact that President Macron and Chancellor Scholz and also Prime Minister Draghi are in Kiev. It is a message of solidarity in many ways," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenber told a press conference following a meeting of allied defence ministers yesterday and today in Brussels. One of the main agreements reached by the ministers is the reinforcement of the alliance's eastern flank, as well as the increase of forces in combat battalions in the Baltics and Poland with pre-assigned troops. 

Meanwhile, Moscow has stated, through presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, that it hopes the meeting will help Zelenski "see the real state of affairs", warning that agreements on "future arms supplies" will only "prolong the suffering of the people and cause new damage to the country". 

The trip of Macron, Scholz, Draghi and Iohannis comes just a day after the visit of fellow EU candidates Republic of Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia, whose leaders, Edi Rama, Dritan Abazović and Dimitar Kovačevski, respectively, issued - together with President Zelenski - a joint statement in support of granting Ukraine candidate status for EU membership.