Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to meet Ukrainian president Zelenskiy in Brussels

Ukrainian leader is in Brussels to appeal for urgent assistance to repel Russian invasion

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Brussels on Thursday, as the Ukrainian leader makes a rare visit away from his country to appeal for rapid assistance to rebuff the Russian invasion.

News that Mr Zelenskiy would attend a summit of the 27 EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and address the European Parliament leaked earlier this week, in breach of strict security procedures that have surrounded his trips to Washington, London, and Paris.

Speaking to reporters on his arrival at the summit, Mr Varadkar confirmed that Mr Zelenskiy would join the 27 leaders and said he would then have an opportunity to speak to him in a smaller breakout group.

“The main thing I’ll be saying to him really is to assure him that Ireland and the Irish people that are 100 per cent, behind Ukraine and that we’ll stand with them until a just peace is secured, and that means Russia withdrawing and Ukraine being able to continue on its democratic and European path,” Mr Varadkar said.

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“I’ll reassure him that a lot of Ukrainians have come to Ireland, they are welcome in Ireland, that we will continue to provide humanitarian support, financial support, and also non lethal military support through the European Union.”

A major request by Mr Zelenskiy is expected to be an appeal to speed the delivery of promised military aid, ahead of a feared offensive by Russia as it throws troops into pushing forward its front line around the pummelled city of Bakhmut.

Mr Varadkar said there would be no change to Ireland’s position of offering only non-lethal assistance to Kyiv.

“I understand that Ukraine is seeking military aid from other European countries, particularly Germany, particularly France. We don’t have fighter jets or tanks or heavy weapons,” he said.

“Even if we wanted to, and it would be against our policy of neutrality, we don’t have lethal weapons to give Ukraine and we’re not going to be doing that. But what we can help with is in other ways: financially, humanitarianly, supporting their candidature for the European Union, and also through the European Peace Facility funding – non-lethal weapons essentially such as body armour.”

Ireland has stood out among western European countries in the strength of its support for Ukraine’s hopes to join the EU, and the Taoiseach said it was feasible for accession negotiations to start later this year, a major step forward for a country that received candidate status in June.

“I think we’ve all been enormously impressed about how the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people are doing everything they can to meet the test for membership. I don’t think we should dilute those tests, but if Ukraine satisfies the criteria for membership, well, then we should advance their application.”

If part of Ukraine is occupied by a foreign power, it is no reason to exclude the country from membership, Mr Varadkar continued, citing the example of Cyprus where the north of the island is under Turkish control.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times