Ukraine has told visiting European Union foreign ministers that its victory over Russia’s invasion force “directly depends” on co-operation with the bloc, as the Kremlin predicted that the West would tire of supporting Kyiv and “fragment” over the issue.
The EU’s foreign affairs council pledged continued defence, financial, political and humanitarian support for Ukraine on Monday, when foreign ministers or their deputies from all 27 member states met for the first time in this format in a non-member country.
“I am confident that Ukraine and the entire free world can prevail in this confrontation,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“But our victory directly depends on our co-operation: the more strong and principled steps we take together, the sooner this war will end … with the restoration of our territorial integrity and reliable guarantee of peace for the whole of Europe.”
Mr Zelenskiy thanked EU states for the help they have given since the Kremlin’s full invasion in February 2022, but appealed for more air defence systems and rockets amid nightly drone and missile attacks by Russia, and before what is expected to be another winter onslaught against Ukraine’s power grid and other civilian infrastructure.
“The air defence systems our country received, such as Patriot, Iris-T, Nasams and others, are already playing a positive role and saving lives. We need more of these systems – in particular, a few Patriots for the protection of our southern regions can fundamentally change the situation and to a large extent make Russian terror meaningless,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the top diplomats of several member states reiterated their support for Ukraine’s EU membership bid, but there was no indication of whether Kyiv would achieve its goal of starting accession talks this year.
“For us Europeans … it’s an existential threat. That’s why we have to continue supporting them,” Mr Borrell said of Russian aggression, as shelling of Ukraine’s southeastern Kherson region killed at least one person and injured seven.
“The strongest security commitment we can give to Ukraine is European Union membership … now Ukraine is a candidate country and is going further on this way,” he added.
Alongside Mr Borrell, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba urged the EU to support the operation of a new civilian shipping corridor in the Black Sea, which several cargo vessels have used in defiance of an attempted Russian naval blockade.
“If the EU and Ukraine join forces to guarantee the security of this corridor, then this corridor will be able to work at full capacity,” he said. “A sea corridor through which Ukrainian grain can be exported to the world without the involvement of Russia is possible. We have already demonstrated it.”
German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said Kyiv was “where the heart of Europe is beating most strongly at the moment” and that the EU should expand to take in Ukraine, including eastern regions that were now partly occupied.
“The future of Ukraine lies in the European Union, in our community of freedom, and it will soon stretch from Lisbon to Luhansk,” she said. “With every village, with every metre that Ukraine liberates … it is also paving its way to the European Union.”
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Michéal Martin said “Ireland has been very supportive from the beginning of the Ukraine application to join the European Union, we support enlargement”, and called the Kyiv meeting “a very powerful, symbolic” demonstration to Ukrainians that “we stand four-square behind them”.
Amid delays to expected US funding for Ukraine and speculation over how Slovakia’s next government will work with its embattled neighbour, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov predicted that Western support for Kyiv would dwindle.
“According to our forecasts, fatigue from this conflict, fatigue from the completely absurd sponsorship of the Kyiv regime, will grow in various countries,” he said. “And this fatigue will lead to the fragmentation of the political establishment.”