Ukraine war: Zelensky takes fighter jet bid to EU leaders

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Ukraine’s leader has called on EU leaders to provide fighter jets and arms for the war against Russia, on his second trip abroad since the war began.

“We have to enhance the dynamics of our co-operation, we have to do it faster than the aggressor,” said Volodymyr Zelensky.

He was earlier given a standing ovation at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Several EU leaders have already stressed that a decision on warplanes would be a collective move.

Some are keen to avoid having the debate being played out in public, while there is also concern about escalation and playing into Russian narratives.

The Kremlin warned on Thursday that the line between direct and indirect Western involvement in the conflict was disappearing.

Mr Zelensky said that certain agreements had been made that were positive but not yet public, and presidential office adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak later told Ukrainian TV that long-range missiles and attack aircraft would be supplied this year, although it was up to negotiations.

The UK said no decision on providing jets in the long term had yet been made but it would provide training for Ukrainian pilots on the aircraft it already had.

Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said his country could only act “within the entire formation of Nato”, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the issue had to be discussed behind closed doors. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola called on EU states to consider Kyiv’s request for jets quickly.

In his speech to the Parliament in Brussels, Mr Zelensky repeatedly linked Ukraine to a European way of life. Ukraine has applied to join the EU and is urging the bloc’s leaders to throw its weight behind a swift course to accession, which usually takes many years.

“Ukraine is going to be a member of the European Union,” he told MEPs. Together with Europe, he said Ukrainians were defending themselves against the “biggest anti-European force of the modern world”. That theme was repeated at the later summit with EU leaders, where he stressed that Europe could not be free without a free Ukraine.

The Ukrainian leader had earlier travelled from Paris with France’s Emmanuel Macron, where he had also held talks with Germany’s Olaf Scholz. Before visiting Paris, he had been assured by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that nothing was off the table.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) walks next to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) before heading to Brussels, in Military Airport Villacoublay, in Velizy-Villacoublay, Southwest of Paris

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Mr Zelensky said Germany and France had the potential to be “game-changers” in the war. The sooner Ukraine received heavy, long-range weapons and modern planes, “the quicker this Russian aggression will end”, he explained.

Although President Macron has previously signalled some openness to providing fighter jets, Mr Scholz has not.

The French leader vowed Ukraine could count on his support, with France “determined to help Ukraine to victory and the re-establishment of its legitimate rights”. Chancellor Scholz added: “The position is unchanged: Russia must not win this war.”

Because of the 11-month long Russian invasion, Mr Zelensky rarely leaves his own country and a senior Ukrainian official said that the purpose of his trip was to obtain results.

He argues that fighter jets and long-range missiles are important in addition to the Leopard 2 tanks that Western nations have recently committed to supplying. While Mr Zelensky said he had discussed the issue of combat planes in Paris, he warned there was “very little time” to provide much-needed weaponry.

The Dutch prime minister said that many sensitive issues had to be discussed before a decision could be made on supplying fighter jets. “The pros and cons – you have to make absolutely sure that you are not getting into an Article Five direct confrontation between Nato and Russia,” Mr Rutte told the BBC.

Moscow has repeatably warned the West against weapons deliveries since the war began, frequently threatening to retaliate against what it calls “provocations”.

Asked by reporters in Moscow about the growing debate over sending warplanes to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia saw it as evidence of the growing involvement of the UK, France and Germany in the conflict.

“We regret this and state that such actions of these countries lead to the escalation of tension around this conflict, prolong it and make it more painful and torturous for Ukraine,” said Mr Peskov.

Chancellor Scholz agreed only recently to allow German Leopard tanks and has warned against getting involved in a “public bidding war” of weapons systems for Ukraine.

Mr Zelensky had earlier addressed a joint session of the UK Parliament in Westminster Hall, underlining his plea for fighter jets: “Freedom will win – we know Russia will lose.”

Downing Street said UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was investigating what aircraft could potentially be offered, but emphasised this was “a long-term solution” and that training pilots could take years.

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