BRUSSELS – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Brussels on Thursday to press leaders of the European Union for more weapons – above all, fighter jets – and for a quick start to EU membership talks.
While Mr Zelensky is unlikely to leave with immediate pledges to satisfy his requests, the visit gives him a chance to press his case in person with all the EU's 27 national leaders for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022.
The Netherlands is not ruling out any kind of military support for Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters as he arrived in Brussels for the EU summit, while Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Nato countries should act jointly on the matter.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who in January said Germany would supply its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, overcoming misgivings about sending heavy weaponry, did not go into specifics.
But he said: “We will continue our support for Ukraine in the defence of its independence and integrity for as long as necessary.”
Also arriving in Brussels ahead of the meeting with Mr Zelensky, Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said EU member states should jointly buy arms and ammunition for Ukraine.
“It is very important that we speed up the military aid to Ukraine,” she said. “We should give a clear signal to the European defence industry to produce more.”
Having won promises of Western battle tanks in recent weeks, Ukrainian officials are now focused on trying to secure the supply of longer-range rockets and fighter jets.
Western governments have so far rebuffed Kyiv's requests for jets, arguing they are not what Ukraine needs for the moment and that it would take years to train Ukrainian pilots to fly them.
But Mr Zelensky got a British commitment on Wednesday to train Ukrainian pilots to fly Nato-standard fighters.
London said it has not yet decided whether to supply such aircraft, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “nothing is off the table”.
A Ukrainian official said Mr Zelensky wanted leaders at the European Council summit to ramp up munitions supplies.
“We badly need as of now, as of yesterday, long-range artillery, all types of artillery ammunition,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Battle tanks – the decision has been taken by several member states, but we have no tanks for now. This needs to be speeded up,” the official added.
On the question of joining the EU, Ukrainian officials are pushing for membership talks within months.