Odessa, Ukraine. It was late, almost four months after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, but when the leaders of the European Union’s three largest countries finally traveled to Kyiv, their intentions were clear: to dispel any doubt that they hesitated to support Ukraine’s aspirations for sovereignty, territorial integrity, freedom and membership in what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the “European family”.
This assurance, which seemed undiluted by any pressure on Ukraine to negotiate with Moscow, was underlined. The determination to end any hint of appeasement of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s indiscriminate aggression, which had already claimed tens of thousands of lives, seemed paramount.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s insistence last month that it was important to never give in to the “temptation of humiliation” against Russia infuriated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said the French president should not look for “a way out for Russia.” On Thursday in Kyiv, Mr. Macron turned around, expressing his strong support for the Ukrainian cause.
“We will do everything so that Ukraine can choose its own destiny,” he said.
However, the question remained open as to how the war would ever end, putting acute pressure on the world economy with soaring inflation and looming food shortages. That European leaders have shied away from any open calls for Mr. Zelensky to negotiate with Mr. Putin has almost certainly not meant that they have given up on their strong inclination to prioritize diplomacy and prevent some escalation of the war at all costs.
In the short term, Europe and its leaders need peace to avoid a downward economic spiral. Rising energy prices anger voters. But in the long term, Europe needs a reaffirmation of the values of freedom and peace that have served it well since 1945 and have been enshrined by NATO and the European Union.
It is to this vision and Ukraine’s participation in it that the leadership committed itself on Thursday.
“Today, clearly on Ukrainian soil, the security of the European continent as a whole is at stake,” Mr Macron said. “Europe is on your side and will remain so for as long as it takes.”
It was a different tone than Mr Macron. Tensions have flared between Mr. Zelensky and his French and German counterparts over issues such as the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine and the willingness of Mr. Macron and Mr. Scholz to leave diplomatic options open for Mr. Putin.
Before Thursday’s visit, Ukrainian presidential adviser Alexei Arestovich told the popular German daily newspaper Bild that he was concerned that European leaders would come to Kyiv saying “we need to end the war that is causing food problems” and “we need to save Putin’s face.” .
If there were such thoughts – and the economic problems caused by the war were worsening every day for European leaders – they did not find public expression. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who accompanied the leaders of Germany and France, said: “Today, the most important message of this visit is that Italy wants to see Ukraine in the European Union.”
Better Understand the Russo-Ukrainian War
This process will take time, but the expression of support for Ukraine’s EU membership, echoed by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, the fourth member of the delegation, was the most unequivocal ever seen. It proposed that European leaders formalize Ukraine’s status as a candidate for membership in the union.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Ukraine must live!” Mr. Scholz said, using the Ukrainian expression of victory for Ukraine, “Glory to Ukraine.” For a leader who was careful to express support, it was a passionate statement.
“Germany cannot and does not want to be seen as the party that dragged NATO into the war,” said Uwe Joon, a political scientist at the University of Trier, explaining Mr. Scholz’s carefully crafted approach to Kyiv in recent months.
Ukraine’s belief that its future security and prosperity depended on Europe has been unbearable for years to Mr. Putin, who believes Ukraine’s fate – if it does exist as a nation – should be decided by Russia.
The brutality of the Russian invasion has only redoubled Ukraine’s determination to look to the West, not the East, to ensure its development—one of the many ways in which the Russian leader’s reckless gamble appeared to reinforce the very results, such as the galvanized NATO alliance he sought. undermine.
“Over the past two decades, we have been moving in opposite directions: Ukraine towards civilization in the West, and Russia towards the past, the Soviet past,” said Petr Obukhov, a member of the Odessa city council who is leading a campaign to remove street names associated with Russia, which founded the city during the reign of Catherine the Great. “We parted”.
Several European leaders, as well as American secretaries of state and defense ministers, arrived in Kyiv ahead of Mr. Macron and Mr. Scholz. The apparent reluctance of French and German leaders to come has fueled skepticism in the Ukrainian capital about their intentions, especially after the Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 agreements were signed, brokered by Paris and Berlin in an attempt to end the Russian-instigated separatist war in the east of the country. Ukraine, which began in 2014, proved to be so inefficient.
The last thing Ukraine wants is what is sometimes derisively referred to as “Minsk-3,” a contrived ceasefire based on mutual concessions that are never implemented and that leave Mr. Putin, who holds Ukrainian territory, free to use further brute force. when it next chooses.
Russia disparaged the visit. Dmitry Medvedev, former president and now deputy chairman of the Security Council, said: “European connoisseurs of frogs, liver and pasta love to come to Kyiv. Zero benefits.”
This blunt scolding of a Russian politician once seen as softer and more pro-European than his master, Mr. Putin, showed just how hard the confrontation between Russia and the West has become and how elusive peace can be. Earlier this week, Mr. Medvedev suggested with smug contempt that Ukraine could cease to exist in two years.
Mr. Macron has spoken extensively in recent months about the need to continue negotiations with Putin’s Russia, a huge power that he sees as a threat to European stability unless it is integrated into some new security architecture. This caused concern in Ukraine.
Speaking about Ukraine’s membership of the European Union, Mr Macron said last month: “We all know very well that the process to accept membership will take several years, in fact, without a doubt, several decades.”
While the process is expected to take years, talk in Kyiv on Thursday was about speeding it up, not the need for Ukrainian patience.
The Russian invasion was “deliberate, premeditated, unjustified and unjustified,” Mr Macron said.
He announced that France would supply Ukraine with six Caesar long-range self-propelled howitzers, in addition to the 12 already delivered. Caesars are valued for their accuracy.
The issue of arms supplies to Ukraine worried Scholz and became the reason for the March quarrel, as a result of which German President Franz-Walter Steinmeier was recalled to Ukraine. Tensions have eased since then, but Mr. Scholz remains under pressure from some members of his Social Democratic Party not to send too many heavy weapons.
The chancellor looked visibly agitated during a visit to the ruined Kyiv suburb of Irpin. “Things get even worse when you see how terribly senseless the violence is,” he said of what he called the “Russian war of aggression.”
Whether this experience would change German policy was unclear. But it seems unlikely that tensions between Germany and Ukraine over the extent of German support will ever fully dissipate. Germany’s post-war quest for freedom can only be matched by its horror of war.
Any resolution to the crisis that has left millions of tons of Ukrainian grain rotting in grain elevators on the Black Sea coast also seemed far off. Mr Macron raised the issue, blaming the “global food crisis” on “Russian aggression”. Russia, of course, blames Ukraine, which is another illustration of the deepening impasse in the conflict.
Reporting was prepared by Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Erika Sommer from Berlin, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, and Jason Horowitz and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome.