Ukraine and the European Union will hold a summit in Kyiv on Friday, the Ukrainian government welcoming this “strong signal” sent to Moscow almost a year after the start of the Russian invasion.
For its part, the Russian army, on the offensive in recent days, claimed Tuesday the conquest of a village near Bakhmout, hot spot of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The summit with the twenty-seven is an important step, several months after Kyiv obtained the status of official candidate for EU membership.
In his Tuesday evening address, Zelensky hoped the summit would reflect a high “level of cooperation and progress” with the EU. “We are waiting for news for Ukraine,” he said.
“The fact that this summit is being held in Kyiv is a strong signal addressed both to our partners and to our enemies”, Prime Minister Denys Chmygal had welcomed earlier, saying “expect from the summit a positive interim evaluation of our efforts for European integration”.
These two days must allow “Europe to believe in the victory of Ukraine”, he insisted.
They will take place a few days after the Westerners gave the green light, after long procrastination, to deliver to the Ukrainian army heavy tanks extracted from their arsenal.
Between 120 and 140 tanks
According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba, Ukraine expects “between 120 and 140” Western tanks to repel the Russian army.
This is the first time that Kyiv has revealed the total number of modern heavy armor pledged by its Western allies.
Ukraine had previously indicated that it would need several hundred of these heavy tanks, long-range missiles and planes to be able to carry out counter-offensives capable of reconquering Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.
Especially since the delivery process could take months, according to several chancelleries, because of the need to organize the maintenance of the tanks on site and the training of the Ukrainian soldiers.
Paris, for its part, announced on Tuesday that France would supply Ukraine with 12 additional 155 mm Caesar guns, in addition to the 18 already delivered.
But these very precise and mobile pieces do not have the range of more than 100 kilometers that Ukraine says it needs to destroy Russian supply lines and ammunition dumps.
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he would discuss his arms needs with Mr. Zelensky.
“We’re going to talk,” he told a group of reporters at the White House after answering a negative question the day before about his plans to supply F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, which claim them.
According to the “Wall Street Journal”, an American defense company, General Atomics, offered Kyiv to sell it two Reaper MQ-9 drones for a symbolic dollar. The cost of transportation to Ukraine ($10 million) and maintenance ($8 million per year) would be borne by Kyiv, the newspaper said. The US government has not commented on this information.
Westerners fear that even more massive military support could push the Kremlin to escalate, as Russia hammers that Americans and Europeans have declared a proxy war on it.
The United States also accused Russia on Tuesday of not respecting the New Start treaty, the last nuclear disarmament agreement binding them.
Many observers believe that Moscow and Kyiv are each planning an assault in late winter or spring. On the ground, Russian forces seem determined to regain the initiative, after setbacks in the fall forced them to retreat to the northeast and south of the country.
On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed in its daily situation report that “the locality of Blagodatné had been liberated”, near Bakhmout, after an offensive by “volunteer assault units” supported by the air force and the artillery.
“Volunteers” is the euphemism used in Russia for paramilitary groups – especially those of the Wagner group – fighting with the army.
Wagner’s boss, the sulphurous Evguéni Prigojine, had already claimed responsibility for taking Blagodatné on Saturday, which Kyiv had denied.
His men also conquered the small town of Soledar in January, at the cost of heavy losses, and the surrounding villages. Ukrainian forces, however, ensure that Bakhmout remains under their control.
Separately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that his country was considering military assistance for Ukraine. “Well, I’m definitely looking into it,” Netanyahu said in an interview with US broadcaster CNN, when asked if Israel was planning to offer aid to Kyiv, such as its security system. Iron Dome air defense.
Mr. Netanyahu has also offered to mediate, if the belligerents and Washington ask him to.
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