Kyiv gets possible path to EU, Putin unaffected
n another show of support, UK PM Boris Johnson visited Kyiv for the second time since the war started.
The European Union’s executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on a path to membership on Friday, a symbolic boost for a country fending off a Russian onslaught that is killing civilians, flattening cities and threatening its very survival.
In another show of Western support, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer continued aid and military training, adding that evidence points to Russia ”taking heavy casualties” in the invasion.
“We are with you to give you the strategic endurance that you will need,” Johnson said on his second visit to the country. Although he did not detail the aid, he said Britain would lead a program that could train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers every 120 days in an unspecified location outside the country.
The latest embrace of Ukraine by its European allies also marks another setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his war nearly four months ago, hoping to pull his ex-Soviet neighbour away from the West and back into Russia’s sphere of influence.
Putin defends war
At Russia’s showpiece economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, Putin reprised his usual defence of the war. He has alleged the invasion was necessary to protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels and to ensure Russia’s own security.
Putin also said on Friday he had no objections to Ukraine joining the European Union.
“We have nothing against it. It is not a military bloc. It’s the right of any country to join economic unions,” Putin said.
Russia has railed against Ukraine’s attempts to join the Nato military alliance for years, with the issue becoming a major stand-off between Moscow and the West.
Before he ordered tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in late February, Putin had sought legal guarantees from the US that Ukraine would not be admitted to the military alliance.
Putin told the conference that the country’s economy will overcome sanctions that he called “reckless and insane”.
He said the US “declared victory in the Cold War and later came to think of themselves as God’s own messengers on planet Earth”.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s trip followed one by the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania, who vowed in Kyiv a day earlier to support Ukraine’s fight without asking it to make any territorial concessions to Russia.
Johnson said the British-led training programme could “change the equation of this war”.
Ukraine has been taking heavy casualties in the battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Johnson said his government will work to intensify the sanctions on Russia.
Zelensky welcomed Johnson’s visit, saying on Telegram, “We have a common view of the movement towards Ukraine’s victory. I’m grateful for a powerful support!”
The possibility of membership in the European Union, created to safeguard peace on the continent and serve as a model for the rule of law and prosperity, fulfils a wish of Zelensky and his Western-looking citizens.
The European Commission’s recommendation that Ukraine become a candidate for membership will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels. The war has increased pressure on EU governments to fast-track Ukraine’s candidate status. But the process is expected to take years, and EU members remain divided over how quickly and fully to open their arms to new members.
Political and military support for Ukraine from Western countries has been key to its surprising success in the face of larger and better-equipped Russian forces. Zelensky has also clamoured for additional immediate support in the form of more and better weapons to turn the tide in the east, known as the Donbas region.
Russia pressed its offensive there Friday, leaving desperate residents struggling to make sense of what the future holds.
The Ukrainian military said Moscow’s troops kept up relentless attacks on both Sloviansk and Sievierodonetsk, two key cities that have been the focus on recent fighting. The military claimed Ukrainian forces pushed Russian fighters out of the village of Bohorodychne, north of Sloviansk.
Russia and its allies say they have taken about half of Donetsk and nearly all of Luhansk — the two regions that make up the Donbas. Sievierodonetsk and surrounding villages are in the last pocket of Luhansk region still in Ukrainian hands.
President Joe Biden said on Friday he had been briefed on two Americans missing in Ukraine, and he urged US citizens to refrain from travelling to the war-torn country.
Asked about the two Americans volunteer fighters who are feared captured by Russian forces, Biden said, “I have been briefed.”
Biden told reporters he didn’t know the men’s whereabouts, adding “Americans should not be going to Ukraine.”