Von der Leyen shuts down Zelensky’s dreams for 2023 membership to EU

Zelensky welcomed by EU leaders in Brussels

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At the close of a 16-hour summit that ended when Volodymyr Zelensky was already gone, EU leaders pledged they would do all it takes to back Ukraine but offered no firm timetable for membership talks to begin as the Ukrainian President had hoped. It comes after Zelensky said EU membership talks should start later this year. He said such a move would help motivate Ukrainian soldiers in their defence of the country.

Looking at EU Council President Charles Michel, he said: “Of course we need it this year.”

He insisted, tongue-in-cheek: “When I say this year, I mean this year. Two, zero, 23.”

EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, however, said “there is no rigid timeline.” In practice, membership often has taken decades to complete.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the leaders agreed to support Ukraine “tirelessly, over the long term … to win the war.”

EU leaders pledged to look over the next month at boosting ammunition production for Ukraine’s war effort as it faces fresh challenges from Russia.

Michel said the bloc needs to “cooperate with the industrial sector and to ensure that we can speed up the level of production of ammunition and that they can also fulfill the commitments that are needed.”

Von der Leyen said that a new 10-billion euro sanctions package under discussion would focus on depriving Russia of military goods it needs and cannot get anywhere else.

She said: “The sanctions package is targeted on goods that are almost irreplaceable from somewhere else.”

While in Brussels, Zelensky asked Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger to give Ukraine its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets. Slovakia grounded its fleet of MiG-29s last year. “We will work on” the request, Heger replied.

Macron did not rule out sending French fighter jets to Ukraine, but said Zelensky didn’t ask for them and they were not Ukraine’s most urgent need.

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He said: “In no case could warplanes be delivered in the coming weeks.”

He said France may consider “intensifying” deliveries of other equipment such as artillery or missile systems.

The commitments came after an emotional day at EU headquarters where Zelensky wrapped up a rare, two-day trip outside Ukraine to seek new weaponry from the West to repel the invasion that Moscow has been waging for nearly a year. As he spoke, a new offensive by Russia in eastern Ukraine was underway.

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Zelensky, who also visited the UK and France, received rapturous applause and cheers from the European Parliament and a summit of the 27 EU leaders, insisted in his speech that the fight with Russia was one for the freedom of all of Europe.

The Ukrainian leader said: “A Ukraine that is winning is going to be a member of the European Union.

“Europe will always be, and remain Europe as long as we … take care of the European way of life.”

Zelensky held up an EU flag after his address and the MEPs stood in somber silence as the Ukrainian national anthem and the European anthem “Ode to Joy” was played in succession.

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