Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the European Union to accelerate his country’s membership bid to allow accession talks to start this year, and said Kyiv’s forces would not surrender the eastern city of Bakhmut despite relentless Russian attacks.
EU leaders did not put any time frame on Ukraine’s accession during Friday’s summit in Kyiv, but pledged the bloc’s support “for as long as it takes” to defeat Russia’s invasion and said Brussels was preparing a new €10 billion raft of sanctions against Moscow.
Mr Zelenskiy also repeated a call for allies to increase and accelerate deliveries of heavy weapons, including tanks and air defence systems, as the US unveiled a €2 billion military aid package that included rockets with a 150km range for the first time.
“Our goal is absolutely clear – to start negotiations on Ukraine’s membership of the European Union this year,” Mr Zelenskiy said after talks with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council head Charles Michel.
“Today’s Ukraine-EU summit is a powerful symbol that we will overcome any obstacles to strengthen our partnership and integration ... We will not lose a single day in our work to bring Ukraine and the EU closer together,” he added.
Despite Ukraine being locked for more than 11 months in a devastating full-scale war with Russia, its government has said it aims to join the EU in just two years, having received formal candidate status alongside neighbouring Moldova last June.
“There are no rigid timelines [for accession] but there are goals that you have to reach,” said Ms von der Leyen, while praising the “precision, the quality and speed” of Ukraine’s reforms. Experts say Ukraine could be on the path to membership for well over a decade.
“The EU will support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people against Russia’s ongoing war of aggression for as long as it takes,” Brussels and Kyiv said in a joint statement.
“We highlighted the historical importance of the decision ... to recognise the European perspective of and grant the status of candidate country to Ukraine. We reiterated that the future of Ukraine and its citizens lies within the European Union.”
Mr Zelenskiy urged the EU to tighten sanctions on Russia and impose measures on its nuclear industry – something Hungary has vowed to block due to its controversial €12.5 billion deal with Moscow to expand its Paks atomic power station.
“Our nine packages of sanctions are biting, and a tenth one is on its way. With our partners, we must deny Russia the means to kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy homes and offices. New measures will hit the trade and technology that supports Russia’s war machine,” Ms von der Leyen said, adding that “it will be worth about €10 billion”.
The EU also agreed to cap the amount that member states will pay for oil products from Russia, having already imposed a price cap on Russian crude oil imports.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv at least twice on Friday and fierce fighting continued in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine, especially around the ruined city of Bakhmut.
“Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress,” Mr Zelenskiy said.
“If weapons [supplies] are quickened, specifically long-range weapons, not only will we not leave Bakhmut, but we will also begin to de-occupy Donbas, which has been [partly] occupied since 2014.”
Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder said the new US military aid package to Ukraine would include so-called ground-launched small-diameter bombs. They have a range of about 150km, almost twice that of the Himars rockets that Kyiv’s forces have used to strike Russian command posts and supply lines deep inside occupied territory.