KYIV — French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Kiyv on Thursday on a joint trip to show their backing for Ukraine as it struggles to withstand a Russian assault.
BFM TV showed live footage of the overnight train arriving in the Ukrainian capital.
The visit has taken weeks to organize with the three men looking to overcome criticism within Ukraine over their response to the war.
“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians,” Macron said as he arrived in Kyiv.
Asked why the visit was taking place now, an Elysee official said they had considered it was best to do it just before an EU summit next week that is due to discuss Kiyv’s bid to join the 27-naton bloc.
The European Commission is due to make on Friday a recommendation on Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate, something the biggest European nations have been lukewarm about.
“The useful time for this visit was the European Council of 23/24, where a strong symbolic gesture is expected by the Ukrainians,” the Elysee official said.
“A balance has to be found between Ukraine’s natural aspirations to (join) the EU at a very special time, and attention to all the countries which already have candidate status and are stuck in the negotiation chapters and the fact that we must not destabilize the EU or fracture it.”
Speaking in Romania on Wednesday, Macron said it was time for Europe to reassure Ukraine over its EU ambitions.
“We are at a point when we need to send clear political signals, us Europeans, towards Ukraine and its people when it is resisting heroically,” he said, without giving details.
Kyiv has accused France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, of foot-dragging in their support for Ukraine, saying they have been slow to deliver weapons and of putting their own prosperity ahead of Ukraine’s freedom and security.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told German newspaper Bild this week he was concerned the three leaders would put pressure on Kyiv to accept a peace deal favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“They will say that we need to end the war that is causing food problems and economic problems…that we need to save Mr Putin’s face,” he said, referring to comments by Macron this month that it was vital not to humiliate the Russian leader .
Addressing this concern, Draghi said on Tuesday it was important for peace talks to open as soon as possible, but added they had to be “on terms that Ukraine deems acceptable.”
Zelenskiy is expected to push his visitors to send more arms to help his hard-pressed army withstand the Russian invaders.
Ukraine has been particularly critical of Germany’s military aid and the country’s ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, told German broadcaster NTV he expected Scholz to hand over heavy weapons that had been long-promised but not yet delivered.
Scholz has dismissed allegations he has held back much-needed military support, saying it was one of the biggest military and financial backers of Ukraine, and that it was taking time to train Ukrainian soldiers to use the sophisticated artillery systems that it was offering. ( Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Andreas Rinke in Berlin, John Irish, Michel Rose and Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris; Writing by Crispian Balmer and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Toby Chopra, Mark Potter and Angus MacSwan)