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Emotional Zelensky thanks EU in arms and sanctions debate

origin 1Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky poses with EU leaders for family photo ahead of an EU summit in Brussels. EU leaders meet to discuss war and migration in Ukraine. Florian Schrötter/BKA/dpa

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the European Union for its support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia and for hosting Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

“Glory to Ukraine,” Zelenskyj said in Ukrainian, visibly moved as he began a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels to applause from EU lawmakers.

Zelensky arrived in the Belgian capital on Thursday morning, after visiting London and Paris on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian president said his country is fighting for European values ​​in defense against Russian attack.

“This is our Europe… this is our way of life. And for Ukraine it is a way back home,” he said, adding that his country is making progress in meeting the conditions to potentially enter the block.

Zelensky praised the EU legislative chamber for its swift support for Ukraine’s EU candidate status, noting that the support motivated his country “to be strong and to stay the course”.

Following his speech, Zelensky and European Parliament president Roberta Metsola together held up an EU flag in the plenary chamber to a standing ovation from MPs before the anthems of Ukraine and the EU were played.

Earlier, Metsola expressed its support for supplying Ukraine with fighter jets and long-range missiles.

“States must quickly consider, as a next step, providing the long-range systems and jets you need to protect the freedom that too many have taken for granted,” Metsola said.

After his speech, Zelensky traveled to the meeting of EU leaders, where he is expected to raise topics such as ever-faster arms deliveries, support for Ukraine’s EU membership and its peace plan, said a Ukrainian official.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz underlined his country’s support for Ukraine upon his arrival at the summit.

Germany is the EU country that provides Ukraine “the most financial and humanitarian support, but also the most concrete support when it comes to arms deliveries,” he said.

Scholz also said he would work towards a quick delivery of the promised tanks to Ukraine.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has urged supporters of Ukraine to supply the country faster with weapons as the debate shifts from giving Western-made tanks to providing the country with fighter jets.

The cost of inaction “will increase with every hesitation, with every delay,” he said.

Kallas also called for fresh EU sanctions as a “strong signal” of determination ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Under new sanctions, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda wants the bloc to target Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, members of the energy company’s board of directors, Russian diamond exports and all remaining Russian banks.

The EU summit was initially convened to focus on the high number of asylum applications and the arrival of irregular migrants in the bloc.

In 2022, according to the European border management agency Frontex, the authorities recorded a 64% increase in irregular border crossings compared to the previous year. Asylum applications have increased by almost 50%.

In addition, around 4 million people have fled to the EU from Ukraine.

The rising numbers have put the question of how to tackle irregular migration back to the top of leaders’ agenda with several EU countries calling for stricter measures, including EU-funded border barriers.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer had previously said he was ready to block the summit declaration if concrete agreements on the fight against irregular migration are not reached.

He had previously asked for 2 billion euros ($2.17 billion) from the EU budget to be used for the expansion of a border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey. Germany and Luxembourg reject the move.

Investing in physical border infrastructure will not help the EU solve the bloc’s migration challenges, said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.

EU funding for walls and fences “would be wrong,” Bettel said before a meeting with her EU counterparts, adding that the funds would be better used in development programmes.

“A wall has never been a solution,” Bettel said, pointing to the state of the Mexico-US border and US efforts to build a controversial barrier there.

EU leaders are also expected to discuss the state of the bloc’s economy and how to improve the competitiveness of European industry, as well as political developments in Serbia and Kosovo.

origin 1European Parliament President Roberta Metsola (L) receives Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before an EU summit in Brussels. EU leaders meet to discuss war and migration in Ukraine. Alexis Haulot/European Parliament/dpa
origin 1EU Council President Charles Michel receives Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron before an EU summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. EU leaders meet to discuss war and migration in Ukraine. Dario Pignatelli/EU Council/dpa