Zelensky did not elaborate on the pledges, and there was no immediate confirmation from any European country. But his remarks came amid indications during a European tour that there are countries close to lifting one of the main taboos in military aid to Kiev since the beginning of the Russian military operation last year.
Zelensky said in a press conference: “Europe will remain with us until we achieve victory. I heard from a number of European leaders … about the willingness to provide us with the necessary weapons and support, including aircraft.”
He added, “I am currently holding a number of bilateral talks. We will raise the issue of combat aircraft and other aircraft.”
Andrei Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, posted on social media that the issue of Ukraine’s long-range weapons and combat aircraft had been “resolved” and that details would come later. But he then amended the post to make it less emphatic, and changed the wording to say the problem “may be resolved”.
“We are having very intensive talks. We will soon have a logistical understanding of when, where and how we can get tools (airplanes, long-range weapons) as well as armored equipment,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Ukrainian president, told Ukrainian TV.
Western countries that have supplied Ukraine with weapons have so far refused to send fighter jets or long-range weapons capable of striking deep into Russia.
But the mindset appears to be changing during Zelensky’s European tour, which began on Wednesday with a meeting in London with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and dinner in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Sunak promised to train Ukrainian pilots to fly advanced combat aircraft for NATO. The British prime minister did not offer to supply the planes to Ukraine, but said there was nothing off the table.
Zelensky said some of what Macron and Schulz promised him in Paris “is still a secret”.
“There are certain agreements that are not announced, but they are positive. I do not want to put the Russian Federation, which constantly threatens us with new aggressions, into a state of readiness,” he said.
Zelensky, in his address to a summit of leaders of the 27-nation European Union, called for tougher sanctions against Moscow and to punish the Russian leaders responsible for starting the war.
He stated: “I am grateful to all of you who provide assistance, and grateful to everyone who understands how much Ukraine needs these capabilities at the present time. We need artillery weapons, missiles for them, modern tanks, long-range missiles, and modern aircraft.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was the Ukrainians who would suffer if Britain or other Western countries sent fighter jets to Kyiv, and that the line between indirect and direct Western involvement in the war was blurring.
Peskov added that such measures “escalate tensions, prolong the conflict and make the conflict more painful for Ukraine.”
For his part, Charles Michel, who chaired the summit, said that the European Union needed to provide the “maximum amount” of support to Ukraine, adding, “We understand that the coming weeks and months will be very important.”
Michel added: “Artillery, ammunition, defense systems… You told us exactly what you need and what you need now.”
Request to start EU membership talks
Ukraine submitted its application to join the European Union days after Russia launched its military operation last year, and now wants formal membership talks to begin within months. A Ukrainian official said Kyiv was “absolutely certain that the decision to start accession negotiations could be taken this year”.
Some EU member states want to give Ukraine a morale boost by starting the talks quickly. But other members were more cautious, stressing that potential members must meet conditions such as cracking down on corruption before talks can begin.
Recent weeks have seen Russian forces advance for the first time in half a year, reinforced by tens of thousands of new recruits, in relentless winter battles that both sides describe as one of the bloodiest wars.
Kyiv says it expects Moscow to expand the scope of this offensive in a big way as the anniversary of the military operation, which began on February 24, approaches.
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