The leaders of France, Italy and Germany are planning a joint trip to Ukraine as early as Thursday to show support for the country as it resists the Russian invasion and to discuss its bid to apply for EU membership, according to senior diplomats and officials in European capitals.
Although the trip has not been officially confirmed, Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi and Olaf Scholz are expected to meet Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a high-profile display of western solidarity with Ukraine.
The visit would come on the eve of the European Commission’s assessment whether Ukraine should be granted EU candidate status, a decision that the bloc’s leaders will discuss at a summit in Brussels next week.
Zelenskyy on Wednesday repeated his calls for the EU — of which France currently holds the rotating presidency — to accept Ukraine’s request for candidate status.
According to officials familiar with the matter, Brussels is likely to say that Ukraine should be granted EU candidate status, under the condition that it passes a series of reforms to shore up the rule of law and fight widespread corruption.
EU countries are still split on whether these reforms should be seen as a precondition before Ukraine becomes an EU candidate or whether the reform checklist should be ticked before the next step on the EU path — the formal opening of accession negotiations, which would also require unanimity among EU member states. Diplomats in Brussels see the trio’s visit to Ukraine as essential in gathering enough support for the option of giving EU candidate status now, with the reforms to-do list to be fulfilled at a later stage.
In an address by video link to the Czech parliament, Zelenskyy urged western countries to step up the weapons supplies needed to push back Russia’s invading army. “It is in Ukraine and right now the battle for the future of Europe is taking place,” he said.
“In the near future, we must receive an answer from the European Union — from all member states — to the question of Ukraine’s status . . . to prove that European unification is real and that European values really work, and is not just defined in certain documents as a beautiful formality,” Zelenskyy added.
The Ukraine president spoke hours before Nato defence ministers were to meet in Brussels to discuss further arms deliveries for Ukraine, which has complained of a shortage of the long-range and heavy-calibre artillery needed to fight advancing Russian forces in the eastern Donbas and southern coastal regions.
Macron, who has long said he was ready to go to Kyiv “when the time is right”, hinted at the possibility of an imminent trip as he visited French troops deployed for Nato at a military base in eastern Romania and met the country’s president Klaus Iohannis.
He said “new talks” were needed with Ukraine. “I think we’re at a moment when we, the EU, need to send clear political signals to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as they have been heroically resisting for several months,” he said when asked if he was heading to Kyiv.
Macron repeated his call for eventual negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to secure peace in Europe once the “war of aggression” launched by Vladimir Putin had stopped.
“At some point, when we have helped Ukraine to resist to the maximum and when — I hope — Ukraine has won and above all when there can be a ceasefire, we must negotiate, the Ukrainian president and his government should negotiate with Russia,” Macron said.
The French president has been accused by some of his European allies of being too accommodating to Putin by saying Russia must not be “humiliated”, but he insisted on Wednesday that he was in constant touch with Zelenskyy about the situation and merely emphasising that even after the war Russia would remain a power that could not be ignored.
“Let’s have the common sense to say that we are not waging war against Russia,” Macron said. “The only desirable outcome of the conflict is either a Ukrainian military victory or at some point a negotiation because there will have been a ceasefire, which could allow for an agreement between Ukraine and Russia.”
Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Riga, Valentina Pop in Brussels, Guy Chazan in Berlin and Amy Kazmin in Rome