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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday made an emotional – and deeply personal – pitch for his war-torn country’s EU accession, but his pleas were largely rebuffed by the bloc’s leaders, who offered sympathy but no new reassurances.
Zelenskyjs speechDelivered via video conference, was his third address that day to the leaders of the major Western powers gathered in Brussels for a historic trio of back-to-back NATO, G7 and European Council summits where Russia was at war with Ukraine the main theme.
The Ukrainian president, who was a hugely popular comedian, television and film actor before entering politics and winning the 2019 election, has emerged as a master of wartime communications, and each of his speeches on Thursday was exquisitely tailored to audiences, that he faced.
He asked the leaders of the 30 allied NATO countries for additional military aid, including tanks, fighter jets and other weapons. And to the leaders of the G7 club of rich democracies, he warned that Russia’s war could lead to an acute global food crisis by disrupting Ukraine’s agricultural sector.
The speech to the European Council was the latest in a series of pitches he made for accelerated EU membership. But it was by far his most dramatic and personal.
Zelenskyy wears the distinctive army green T-shirt he has worn since the full-scale invasion of Russia began a month ago said the 26 heads of state and government noting that the war was also a battle of values - one in which Ukraine had shown itself worthy of becoming a member of the EU.
Zelenskyi described how his country gives Russian prisoners of war medical care and feeding, allows them to phone their relatives to let them know they are alive, and that Ukraine collects the bodies of fallen Russian soldiers “whom they just abandon, abandon . Hundreds and hundreds.”
Zelenskyy said his country has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep Ukraine’s nuclear power plants safe, that it “invites journalists” to work freely in the country, documents evidence of war crimes and observes a national minute’s silence every day to honor those killed in the war to honor.
“Have you heard anything like that on Russian TV?” he asked, adding: “You are even ashamed of the word ‘war.’ They call it a “special operation”.
“These are different worlds – us and them,” continued Zelenskyj. “These are different values. It’s a different way of life. The Russian military does not see what dignity is. You don’t know what conscience is. They don’t understand why we value our freedom so much. This determines how the country will live. And who should be in Europe.”
Zelenskyy thanked leaders for the EU’s unified support for Ukraine, but said the bloc had not been quick enough to impose sanctions. He thanked Germany for closing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, adding: “But it was also a bit late.”
Referring to Ukraine’s application for EU membership, he pleaded: “Because this month you’ve compared these worlds and you see everything. You’ve seen who’s worth what. And you saw that Ukraine should be in the EU in the near future.”
The Ukrainian President then made his speech more personal, focusing on specific countries and heads of state and explaining where he felt they stood in terms of support for his country. “Lithuania – for us. Latvia is for us. Estonia is for us. Poland is for us,” he said.
“France, Emmanuel [Macron], I really believe that you will be for us. Slovenia is for us. Slovakia — for us. The Czech Republic is for us. Romania knows what dignity is, so it will stand up for us at the crucial moment. Bulgaria represents us. I think Greece is on our side. Germany … a little later. Portugal – well, almost… Croatia represents us. Sweden – Yellow and blue should always stand together. Finland – I know you are with us. The Netherlands stands for the rational, so we find common ground. Malta – I believe we will succeed. Denmark – I think we will succeed.”
He continued: “Luxembourg – we understand each other. Cyprus – I truly believe you are with us. Italy – thank you for your support! Spain – we will find common ground. Belgium – we will find arguments. Austria together with the Ukrainians is an opportunity for you. I am sure. Ireland – well, almost.”
But he had a harder line on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who for years has tried to cultivate close ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. “Hungary… I want to stay here and be honest. Once and for all,” said Zelenskyy.
“You have to make your own decisions about who you’re with. You are a sovereign state. I was in Budapest. I adore your city I have often been to a very beautiful, very hospitable city. And people too. You have had tragic moments in your life. I have visited your waterfront. I saw this monument … shoes on the bank of the Danube,” he said, referring to a monument Hungarian Jews murdered in World War II.
“Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol? Please go to your waterfront if you can.”
Reunion with Versailles
Despite the heartfelt plea, leaders simply issued written conclusions that echoed their previous statement at a similar summit in Versailles, France earlier this month – and asked the European Commission to give its opinion on Ukraine’s membership bid, just one Step further a year-long and uncertain process.
“The European Council reiterates its invitation to the Commission to deliver its opinion in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties,” said the leaders specified. “The European Union will continue to provide coordinated political, financial, material and humanitarian assistance.”
In their conclusions, leaders declared a commitment to set up a Ukraine Solidarity Trust Fund and to work with international partners to raise money “for the reconstruction of a democratic Ukraine” – a process that has been halted amid ongoing bombing of cities by Russia seems far away relentless attack.
Elsewhere, in a line sure to infuriate Kyiv, the European Council said that it “calls on the Commission to continue providing technical assistance to help Ukraine implement the necessary reforms.”
In fact, before the war, Kyiv had pushed to overhaul many aspects of government and society, including efforts to reform the banking and judiciary sectors, fight corruption, and align energy and other policies with EU standards and requirements. And the Ukrainian government has expressed frustration at being told by the West to aim higher.
In his speech to NATO, Zelenskyy referred to his country’s military successes against the much more invading Russian forces and said clearly: “Please, never again tell us that our army does not meet NATO standards.”
Some EU members, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe, have pushed for Kyiv’s EU bid to be speeded up. But others were cooler to the idea.
As he left the European Council building in the early hours of Friday morning, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte dashed Kiev’s hopes.
“EU accession is a process,” said Rutte. “There is no accelerated accession procedure. If we did that, we would make the accession process a political process, and that shouldn’t happen.”
Rutte warned that granting Ukraine a privileged role in EU accession would create serious frustration among other countries wanting to join the bloc, some of which are further along in the process: “The risk of such an acceleration is that stability in the Western Balkans could be threatened because there are countries that want it too [accession]: North Macedonia, Albania,” said the Dutch leader, adding: “This is very delicate.”
In the conclusions of the heads of state and government, the European Council again condemned Russia and called for an end to the war. “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine grossly violates international law and causes massive deaths and injuries to civilians,” the council said. “Russia directs attacks against civilians and targets civilian objects, including hospitals, medical facilities, schools and shelters. These war crimes must stop immediately. Those responsible and their accomplices will be held accountable under international law.”
On Thursday, the heads of state and government were accompanied by US President Joe Biden for part of their meeting. The summit will continue on Friday with an energy policy debate.
Jacopo Barigazzi, Maïa de La Baume, Andrew Gray, Giorgio Leali and Hans von der Burchard contributed to the coverage.
https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-leaders-zelenskyy-ukraine-euco-summit/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Leaders reject Zelenskyy's latest proposal to join EU - POLITICO