Ukraine’s bid for EU candidacy backed by Macron, Scholz and Draghi on Kyiv visit

Leaders condemn ‘brutality of Russian war of aggression’ in demonstration of unity

France, Germany, Italy and Romania have backed EU candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova in a concerted effort to settle doubts about their level of support for Kyiv in Russia’s ongoing war.

After 113 days of war, amid tensions over unfulfilled weapons promises, president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was “very grateful” for the three countries’ support in pushing to start the long process to full EU membership.

“I don’t think one leader in the world is in a position to make Russia cease its war but, if we unite, that is the only thing that can stop the Russian federation,” said Mr Zelenskiy. “Russia is looking for more ways of intimidating Europe ... we need to thwart their scenario and show them that Europe shall remain free, united and democratic.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, on his first visit to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, insisted Berlin would continue to provide “massive support” to help Ukraine defend itself.


“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” he said. “At the European Council I will lobby for an unanimous vote. Germany backs a positive decision in Ukraine’s favour. This also applies to the Republic of Moldova.”

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi called the Kyiv meeting a “manifestation of unity and strength that unity brings”.

Mr Draghi said Ukraine’s application process would force all 27 EU members to participate in a “deep-seated review of regulations and procedures” — a nod to long-running debates in Brussels about unanimous decision-making.

“We need all countries to think about this,” he said, echoing a call from Mr Scholz.

The push for closer ties with Brussels comes nine years after Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided not to sign a political association and trade agreement with the EU, prompting the large-scale Maidan protests.

On Thursday, French president Emmanuel Macron tried to defuse Ukrainian anger over his recent warning not to “humiliate” Russian president Vladimir Putin. He said Ukraine “shouldn’t make the mistakes” of a century ago when, after the first World War, “France made the mistake of wanting to humiliate Germany”.

He insisted the current EU support for Kyiv is “all about strengthening Ukraine to defend its territorial integrity against Russia”.

At a joint press conference, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis sought international investment to boost rail and sea infrastructure and unlock Ukrainian grain exports.

“Extraordinary times require an extraordinary — and far-sighted — response,” Mr Iohannis said.

Before meeting Mr Zelenskiy, the Italian, French and German leaders visited the nearby town of Irpin and inspected buildings and cars destroyed by artillery fire.

Mr Scholz said Irpin was an example of “the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which is simply out to destroy and conquer ... without regard for human life”.

Mr Macron called Irpin a “heroic town because it is here that, amongst other places, the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army that was descending on Kyiv”.

The three leaders’ visit to Ukraine, via a night train from Poland, took place under high security, with minimum details in advance of their movements. Two air-raid alerts sounded during their time in Kyiv.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has conceded his country is “not squeaky clean” over its war on Ukraine.

“Russia is what it is,” he told the BBC. “And we are not ashamed of showing who we are.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin