There may be hope yet for embattled Ukraine so far as its membership of the European Union is concerned. The leaders of France, Germany and Italy ~ all criticized by the government in Kiev for what it called their“cautious support” ~ visited Ukraine last week and offered the hope of EU membership to a country that has been pleading for weapons against Russia’s invasion. Air raid sirens blared in Kiev as the visit by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Italy’s Mario Draghi and Romania’s Klaus Iohannis began with the leaders touring a nearby town wrecked early in the war. Soon after talks with the Ukranian President, Volodomyr Zelenskyi, the leaders signalled their intent to grant Ukraine the status of a EU candidate, a symbolic gesture that would draw Kiev closer to the economic bloc.
“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” Mr Scholz said, implicitly effecting an analogy with familial bonding. Germany, he said, had taken in 800,000 Ukranian refugees who had fled the conflict. It would continue to support Ukraine as long as it needs. On the battlefield, that offers the chilling spectacle of boots on the ground, Ukraine’s officials said their troops were still holding out against massive Russian bombardment in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, and described fresh progress in a counter-offensive in the south.
“We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defence systems,” Mr Zelenskyi said after his talks with his European counterparts.“There is a direct correlation. The more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, their land,” he said. President Macron offered the assurance that France would step up deliveries to Kiev. Additionally, the meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels is expected to promise more weapons. Not wholly unrelated to the economic blight is that Russian gas supply to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline fell further last week. According to the Kremlin, more delays in repairs could lead to suspending all flows, putting a brake on Europe’s race to refill its gas inventory. Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom said that it was reducing gas supply for a second time in as many days via Nord Stream 1, which runs under the Baltic to Germany.
The latest move cuts supply to just 40 per cent of the pipeline’s capacity. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reductions in supply were not “premeditated” and were related to maintenance issues, a reference to earlier comments that said Russia was unable to secure the return of equipment sent to Canada for repairs. Germany said Russia’s excuse was“technically unfounded” and was actually aimed at driving up gas prices. In the reckoning of Italy, Moscow might use the issue to exert political pressure. It is significant that developments in the gas sector have happened in parallel to the visit to Ukraine by leaders of France,Germany and Italy.