French, German, Italian leaders in 1st Kyiv trip since invasion

Visit comes amid pleas from Zelenskyy for arms to fend off Russia, and ahead of EU discussions on Ukraine’s membership bid.

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) travel on board a train bound to Kyiv
The trio travelled to the Ukrainian capital on a special overnight train provided by Ukrainian authorities [Ludovic Marin/Pool via AFP]

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy are preparing to hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv as part of a joint show of support for Ukraine as it faces down Russia’s invasion.

The trio arrived in the Ukrainian capital early on Thursday morning via a special overnight train provided by Ukrainian authorities.

“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians,” French President Emmanuel Macron said upon disembarking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

During a visit by the group later on Thursday to the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, which Moscow’s forces occupied during an earlier phase of the nearly four-month-long war, Scholz slammed what he described as the “unimaginable cruelty of the Russian war”.

“The brutal destruction of this city is a warning: this war must end,” he tweeted.

Russian forces are accused by Kyiv of carrying out war crimes, including the killing of civilians, in Irpin and other parts of Ukraine. Moscow denies those charges.

Kyiv appeals for allies to boost weapons supplies

The European leaders’ visit has taken weeks to organise, while all three have faced criticism from Kyiv over support viewed as tepid.

It comes as Ukraine continues to plead with its Western allies for them to supply it with additional heavy weaponry as it seeks to fend off Russian advances in the country’s south and east.

Moscow is now steadily gaining ground on the outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces but Major-General Dmytro Marchenko, who leads Ukraine’s forces in the southern city of Mykolaiv, said his troops could achieve victory over Russia if they were given the right weapons.

Kyiv has criticised France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, for alleged foot-dragging in their support against Russia, accusing them of being slow to deliver weapons and of putting their own prosperity ahead of Ukraine’s freedom and security.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Kyiv, said there is expected to be a “lot on the table” during the trio’s discussions with Zelenskyy on Thursday afternoon.

“Obviously the war is going to feature heavily in these discussions, there will be a discussion about potentially more weaponry being supplied and Ukraine’s EU candidacy status,” Stratford said.

“It remains to be seen exactly what can be offered and it is important to also understand that both Germany and France are major donors to what the Europeans have already given [to Ukraine] in terms of weaponry … but Ukrainian officials are every day calling for more heavy weaponry to push back Russia’s onslaught,” he added.

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EU to decide on Ukraine membership bid

The trip also comes a day before the European Union’s executive commission is expected to recommend pushing forward with Ukraine’s bid to join the bloc, which EU leaders are expected to endorse at a summit in Brussels next week, and ahead of a June 29-30 NATO summit in Madrid.

France currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

On Tuesday, during a trip to Ukraine’s neighbours Romania and Moldova, Macron said a “message of support” must be sent to Ukraine before EU heads of state and government “have to make important decisions” at their Brussels meeting.

“We are in a moment where we need to send clear political signals – we, Europeans, we the European Union – towards Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Macron is deeply involved in diplomatic efforts to push for a ceasefire in Ukraine that would allow future peace negotiations.

He has held frequent discussions with Zelenskyy and has spoken on the phone several times with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Moscow launched its invasion in late February.

After Russia began its self-described “special military operation” claiming its aim was to disarm and “de-Nazify” its neighbour, Ukraine repelled an armoured assault on Kyiv in March.

Since then, however, Russia has shifted both its aims and its tactics, now trying to fortify territory it occupies in the east and south, and to seize more with slow advances by ground troops backed by massive artillery bombardments.

The main battle in recent weeks has been over the eastern city of Severodonetsk.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies