The European Union pledged to maintain support for Kyiv and pressure on Moscow, as Russian missiles killed more civilians in eastern and southern Ukraine and the Kremlin warned that its military response to perceived threats from the West could go beyond conventional weapons.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and 15 EU commissioners held talks with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv on Thursday, before a summit on Friday that will also involve Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and European Council head Charles Michel.
Ms Von der Leyen pledged more financial aid to prop up Ukraine and fund reconstruction as well as delivery of 2,400 more generators to support the country’s badly damaged power grid, and announced that an international centre for the prosecution of the crime of aggression in Ukraine would be set up in The Hague with help from EU agency Eurojust.
She also said the EU aimed to impose more sanctions on Russia by February 24th, a year after it launched full-scale war on Ukraine, and to introduce with G7 states a price ceiling on Russian petroleum products, to complement a cap on Moscow’s crude oil exports that “already costs Russia around €160 million a day”.
Condemning what she called Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “brutal invasion”, Ms von der Leyen said “we know that the future of our continent is being written here… What is at stake is freedom. This is a fight of democracies against authoritarian regimes.
“Putin tries to deny the existence of Ukraine, but what he risks instead is the future of Russia. Our presence in Kyiv today gives a very clear signal: The whole of the European Union is in this with Ukraine, for the long haul,” she added.
The EU also announced that its training mission for Ukrainian troops would double in size to include 30,000 military personnel, including crews who will learn how to operate German-made Leopard tanks that several Nato states have pledged to Kyiv amid expectations of intense fighting in the coming months.
“Now Russia is concentrating its forces. We all know that. It is preparing to try to take revenge, not only against Ukraine but against a free Europe and the free world,” Mr Zelenskiy said alongside Ms von der Leyen.
[ Battles rage in east as Ukraine awaits ‘first wave’ of up to 140 western tanks ]
Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that given the Russians’ “love of symbols, we expect that they may try something around February 24th.
“Officially, they disclosed the number of 300,000 new recruits, but according to our estimates there are many more troops deployed at our borders… That is why we need weapons to deter the enemy, because everything in war is decided by who has the initiative,” he added.
At a commemoration of the second World War’s Battle of Stalingrad, Mr Putin said: “Again and again, we are forced to repel the aggression of the collective West… We are not sending our tanks to their borders, but we have the means to respond, and it won’t end with the use of armoured vehicles – everyone must understand that.”
[ Ukraine steps up anti-corruption crackdown before talks with EU ]
Mr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak and Ukraine’s top military commander Gen Valeriy Zaluzhniy spoke to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff.
“The interlocutors were briefed on the current situation on the frontline… In addition, the parties exchanged views on possible actions of the enemy in the near future,” Mr Zelenskiy’s office said in a statement.
Heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, where residential areas of the Kyiv-held city of Kramatorsk were hit by Russian missiles twice in less than 24 hours, killing at least three people and injuring 20 others. Two civilians were also killed in shelling of the southern Kherson region.