It’s the start of a surprise European tour for Volodymyr Zelensky. A few days before the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine launched by Vladimir Putin on February 24, 2022, the Ukrainian president came to plead his case in the United Kingdom, and went to Paris in the evening for a working dinner. with Emmanuel Macron And Olaf Scholz, before Brussels Thursday for a summit of the European Union. The moment is crucial for Ukraine, which is worried about the successes of the Russian army in the Donbass since January and fears a major offensive in the weeks to come.
Welcomed by the Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu at Orly airport, the Ukrainian president was subsequently received at the Elysée by Emmanuel Macron. During a press conference, the French president assured his Ukrainian counterpart of his “determination” to “accompany” Ukraine “towards victory” and of his desire to continue French arms deliveries to Ukraine. “We stand with Ukraine. Firmly. And with the determination to accompany him towards victory and the restoration of his legitimate rights,” he said.
Volodymyr Zelensky demanded that his allies deliver fighter planes to him “as soon as possible” to repel Russia, after having done the same in London. Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz stalled on this issue, a new step in support for kyiv to which the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had, earlier in the day in London, seemed to lead the way cautiously.
“We have very little time,” insisted the Ukrainian president at the Elysée. “The sooner Ukraine gets heavy long-range weaponry, the sooner our pilots get planes, the sooner this Russian aggression will end and we could return to peace in Europe,” he added during the meeting. this flash stage of a journey kept secret until the last moment. To Olaf Scholz, who only agreed to provide heavy tanks after a long resistance and is opposed to sending fighters, he assured that it was the “most rational choice today” . The Chancellor confined himself to assuring him that the allies would support his country, particularly militarily, “as long as necessary”.
At his side, Emmanuel Macron promised to continue “the effort” of “deliveries of defense equipment”, according to “operational needs” that he intended to mention during their interview. He also said he wanted to “build peace” with Volodymyr Zelensky, in particular through an “international conference” involving “the maximum number of partners”.
“I believe that Macron has changed”
In an interview at Figaro this Wednesday evening, Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed that Emmanuel Macron, sometimes accused of not being at the forefront of support for Ukraine, had “changed”, and felt that confidence was “real today”. “After all, he was the one who opened the door to tank deliveries. He also supported Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU. I believe it was a real signal,” added the Ukrainian president.
Appreciated in the British Parliament
Volodymyr Zelensky, whose second trip abroad in a year had been kept secret until the end, was received earlier this Wednesday by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Downing Street. Then he addressed the British Parliament, the two chambers of which met in the grandiose setting of Westminster Hall, a vast room which hosted rare foreign leaders such as the Frenchman Charles de Gaulle in 1960, but also the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II. in September. “We know that freedom will win, we know that Russia will lose,” insisted the Ukrainian leader. “I ask you and the world for simple but yet very important words: fighter jets for Ukraine, wings for freedom,” said Volodymyr Zelensky, before concluding with thanks “for the tea delicious English” and “in advance for the powerful British planes”. He was also received by the King Charles III.
So far, Westerners have shown reluctance to deliver combat aircraft to Ukraine, for fear of an escalation with Russia. But taboos have been falling one after another for a year and kyiv’s supporters have already agreed in January to supply heavy tanks. Seeming to open the door, the head of the British Conservative government promised Volodymyr Zelensky to train fighter pilots “to NATO standards” and this “in order to guarantee that Ukraine can defend its airspace in the future” . He then let it be known, via his spokesperson, that he had asked the army to study possible aircraft deliveries while warning that it could only be “a long-term solution “.
“As far as providing military aid to Ukraine, nothing is ruled out,” the British leader told the press alongside Volodymyr Zelensky, acknowledging that aircraft deliveries were “of course part of the conversation” but emphasizing that the necessary training could last up to three years. Smiling, the Ukrainian president replied that the Ukrainian pilots, given their experience in the field of war, had already followed the equivalent of “two and a half years” of training. He admitted that the priority of the Ukrainian army for the moment was above all to receive armored vehicles as well as long-range weapons. On this last point, London has promised to immediately send longer-range artillery capabilities, without detailing which ones. The government has also tightened its sanctions against the Russian defense sector and in particular the production of drones.
Russia promises ‘response’ if London sends planes
London is kyiv’s first ally to pave the way for an aircraft delivery, albeit from a distant perspective. The Russian Embassy in the UK warned that aircraft deliveries would not go unanswered: “In such a scenario, the bloody harvest of the next round of escalation will be on your conscience, as well as the military consequences. and policies for the European continent and the whole world”.
The United Kingdom confirms its position at the forefront of support for kyiv: it has already provided 2.3 billion pounds (2.5 billion euros) of military aid to the Ukrainian army and has pledged to maintain it this year at this level, the second after the United States. London had been the first country to announce in January its intention to send heavy tanks (14 Challengers 2). Followed by the United States and especially Germany, which announced on Wednesday that it intends to provide Ukraine with a first battalion of Leopard 2s at the end of April.
This is the second time that Volodymyr Zelensky has left Ukrainian territory in a year. During a visit of a few hours on December 21 in Washington, he was received at the White House by Joe Biden and spoke before the American Congress. Since then, the Russian army, backed by the paramilitaries of the Wagner group and reinforced by hundreds of thousands of mobilized civilians, has returned to the attack, in particular in the Donbass, whose annexation Moscow claims. However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was convinced on Wednesday that Vladimir Putin “would not achieve his objectives”, neither on “the battlefield”, nor by “imposing a peace treaty”. As the anniversary of the invasion approaches, “Russia will see more than ever that its tactics only strengthen the determination of Westerners to go further in our aid”, warned Rishi Sunak.