On the way to Ukraine, the leaders of France and Germany are received tensely


The leaders of Germany, France and Italy are expected to make their first visit to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday, in what is meant to be a show of solidarity as his beleaguered country struggles to hold the line against Russian forces.

But they will come as complaints in Ukraine’s capital Kiev grow more desperate over slow arms deliveries, and as grumbles grow in Europe’s power corridors about how long the war could last, with the mounting economic toll taxing their nations and beginning to divide European countries. voters.

Together with their US allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, they have adamantly expressed their support for Ukraine, saying when and how to negotiate an end to the war with Russia yourself.

However, Mr Zelensky has criticized them for not doing enough to support Ukraine against a better-armed Russia. Mr Draghi, a respected technocrat with strong relations across the bloc, has used his considerable gravitas to restore relations with Mr Zelensky, but the other two leaders will arrive on icy terms with their Ukrainian counterpart.

Chancellor Scholz of Germany has become the main target of criticism in Kiev. Pressured to visit for months – a pilgrimage made by a long line of European leaders – he has long insisted he didn’t want to make the trip just for “a photo op.” He would come up with something ‘concrete’, he promised last month.

On the eve of Thursday’s visit, it was unclear what he would bring.

Although Germany has promised a number of heavy weapons in the coming months, no new arms deliveries would be announced on Thursday, said two German officials, who, like their colleagues and diplomats across the continent, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to deal with the press. An expected signal of support for Ukraine’s candidacy for European Union membership could turn out to be more symbolic than concrete.

Mr Macron has also been at odds with Mr Zelensky over the French president’s repeated remarks that Russia should not be humiliated in order to maintain a diplomatic “gate of exit” to war. On Wednesday, speaking from Romania, Macron said France and Europe would continue to help Ukraine with financial, military and humanitarian aid, but also wanted peace.

“At some point, when we have done our utmost to resist, when, I would like, Ukraine will have won and the fire will stop, we will have to negotiate,” Macron said. “The president of Ukraine and his leaders will have to negotiate with Russia, and we Europeans will sit around that table.”

Formal peace talks between Ukraine and Russia have long stalled as the war has shifted to a lingering artillery battle in which Russia appears to have a lead. Many in Kiev have come to view European talks about peace, however far into the future, as veiled pressure to compromise at the expense of territory.

Whatever Mr Scholz and Mr Macron have to offer, the government in Kiev has no shortage of concrete demands, from accelerating Ukraine’s EU membership to introducing tougher sanctions against Russia and, crucially, ensuring faster deliveries of heavy weapons.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, this week mentioned on Twitter what it would take to push Russian troops back to Ukraine’s pre-war borders: 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles, 1,000 drones, 300 rocket launchers and 1,000 howitzers.

The United States and other countries have made efforts to send weapons, but Ukrainian officials say it is not nearly enough, though they express their gratitude. Germany, which has already shipped around €350 million worth of smaller weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, has also promised seven howitzers, several dozen of its anti-aircraft guns, three multi-range missile launchers complete with ammunition, and a tracking radar to target the Ukrainian army. help locate sources of Russian heavy artillery with the advanced IRIS-T air defense system.

So far none of the heavy weapons have arrived.

The howitzers will be delivered in the coming weeks, the tanks and rocket launchers by the end of summer and the air defense system by October at the earliest, German officials said.

“You can’t fight with promises, they don’t help on the battlefield,” Mr Podolyak told Der Spiegel news magazine on Wednesday, adding that he hoped the visit to Kiev would convince Mr Scholz to do more.

The speed and magnitude of the arms donations to Ukraine is also a continuing source of criticism for Mr Scholz from Germany.

Even Mr Scholz’s government allies say he is partly responsible for these perceptions, arguing that he has repeatedly resisted making sincere public appeals and statements explaining the problems facing Germany and the reasons for supporting Ukraine. , could clarify.

Mr Scholz, whose Social Democratic party has a long history of meekness towards Russia, was ambiguous about his desired endgame of the war, saying that Russia must not win and Ukraine must not lose. He did not say that Ukraine should win.

“They have promised a lot, but nothing has been sent so far – zero,” said Norbert Röttgen, a conservative lawmaker and member of the foreign affairs committee.

“It is the clear intention of the government not to supply heavy weapons – there is no other way to explain it,” he added.

Mr Scholz has maintained that the weapons will reach Ukraine. “We will deliver all weapons along the way,” he said Monday.

Leaders are also likely to have mixed reactions to Ukraine’s bid to join the EU, an ambition linked since 2014 to its fight against Russia.

The European Commission is expected next Friday to recommend granting Ukraine candidate status, but the decision, which is fundamentally political, rests in the hands of EU leaders meeting in Brussels next week.

But even the gesture of nominating Ukraine – rather than accelerated membership, which is off the table – is complex. EU officials and diplomats said European leaders are likely to give Mr Zelensky a taste of a positive decision, but with reservations.

At home, leaders face a public determination to support Ukraine that is frayed as the war, whose end is not yet in sight, is proving costly to economies well beyond Ukraine and Russia’s borders, with consequences for harvests, supply chains and the price of gas.

A broad poll of 10 European countries by the European Foreign Affairs Council, published Wednesday, showed that a majority of Europeans wanted Ukraine to make peace with Russia immediately, even if it meant losing territory. A smaller percentage of people believed that only Russia’s military defeat could bring peace.

In nine of the countries surveyed, including France, Germany and Italy, a majority said they preferred immediate peace. Only in Poland, Ukraine’s strongest EU ally, more respondents gave priority to Russia’s defeat.

That popular sentiment fueled the mood of political leaders towards Ukraine, with notable exceptions in Poland and the Baltic countries.

Several senior officials and diplomats from the European Union, the North Atlantic Alliance Organization and European countries said there was a growing sense of irritation at meetings on Ukraine over Mr Zelensky’s rejection of calls for a diplomatic pause in the fighting. since as well as his relentless demand for more help.

A senior European government official said his government was not prepared to let the battle over the Donbas, the center of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, cost its people jobs.

And one veteran European diplomat said the European Union was faced with a conundrum it had helped create: Leaders had so ardently supported Ukraine and raised Mr Zelensky’s personal status in public, gaining enough support from voters that anything but full support for him was likely to garner outrage.

Aurelien Breeden and Erika Solomon reporting contributed.

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