Air raid sirens sound in Kyiv ahead of start of EU summit

Air-raid sirens sounded in Kyiv and across Ukraine early Friday, when a summit between EU and Ukrainian leaders is scheduled to begin in the country's capital.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
03 February 2023 Friday 02:35
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Air raid sirens sound in Kyiv ahead of start of EU summit

Air-raid sirens sounded in Kyiv and across Ukraine early Friday, when a summit between EU and Ukrainian leaders is scheduled to begin in the country's capital.

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, are in Kyiv for the summit with President Volodimir Zelensky, days before the first anniversary of the invasion of Russia.

EU leaders arrive in the Ukrainian capital promising to impose new sanctions against Moscow, but likely dashing Ukraine's hopes of swift entry into the EU.

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, arrived in Kyiv by train on Thursday, on a symbolic trip to show her support for Ukraine. Senior officials from the EU's executive arm met with their Ukrainian government counterparts, and von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will hold talks with Zelensky on Friday.

Zelensky called for more punitive measures against Russia from the European Union, but the new sanctions the bloc is preparing for the anniversary will not meet his government's demands. "We have reached a very important mutual understanding," Zelensky said of Thursday's talks. "That only together - a strong Ukraine and a strong European Union - can we defend the life we ​​value and, through our further integration, provide our people with energy and motivation to keep fighting despite obstacles and threats."

Although the EU backs Ukraine and supports democratic and economic reforms in the country, it refuses to offer a fast track for membership while Ukraine is at war. EU leaders have listed multiple entry requirements, from political and economic stability to the adoption of various EU laws. The process is likely to take years. "Some will want to speculate on the end, but the truth is that we have not reached that point yet," said a senior EU official.

EU officials said issues discussed Thursday included more arms, money and energy support for Ukraine, better access for its products to the EU market, tougher sanctions on Moscow and efforts to prosecute Russian war crimes. The German government has approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from its stocks and is in talks to buy back 15 Gepard tanks from Qatar to send them there, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported on Friday, citing government sources.

The Leopard 1s are not as advanced as the Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries promised last week, but they could be delivered sooner.

The EU has demanded more anti-corruption measures from Ukraine, a country where state corruption is considered to be endemic. To this end, Zelenski has announced in the last two weeks dismissals and investigations of some senior officials, and has indicated that the Ministry of Defense must be clean.

Authorities were investigating senior military commanders in two cases of alleged corruption, official sources said on Thursday. On the other hand, the State Bureau of Investigation reported the arrest of a criminal group suspected of embezzling state funds by selling eggs and other food at excessive prices to senior Defense officials.

Authorities this week raided the homes of one of Ukraine's top billionaires and a former interior minister, announcing an investigation into what they called a multibillion-dollar fraud at the biggest oil and refining companies.

The EU-Ukraine summit coincides with an intensification of Russian pressure on Ukrainian forces in the eastern battlefields and also in the north-east and south. Ukraine says Moscow is sending thousands of soldiers and mercenaries to their deaths in wave attacks for small victories, to appease their political masters.

"They bring men from their conscription and systematically try to find places to break through our defenses," Serhi Cherevati, spokesman for the Eastern Front of the Ukrainian armed forces, told Ukrainian radio NV. "The goal is to fulfill the leadership's goal of seizing control of the entire Donetsk region. But this plan has been on hold for several months."

Moscow says one of its main goals in Ukraine is to secure the rest of the Donetsk province, one of four it unilaterally annexed in September. His main objective has been the city of Bakhmut, where his forces have been gaining ground over the past week.

Asked if there were any signs that Ukraine was preparing to withdraw from Bakhmut, a Belarusian volunteer fighting for Ukraine inside the city said there were no signs yet that Ukrainian forces were planning to withdraw.

"At the moment it is the opposite, the positions where the Russians are trying to cut us off are being reinforced. But it all depends on how the situation evolves. For now we are resisting."

In Washington, CIA Director William Burns said battlefield developments in the next six months would be "absolutely crucial" and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not serious about negotiations.

Russian forces twice attacked the town of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, damaging buildings and causing some civilian casualties, the Ukrainian military said late on Thursday. A Russian missile hit an apartment block in the city on Wednesday, killing three people.

Ukrainian aviation launched four sorties against concentrations of Russian troops and a command post, it added. Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of war crimes and attacking civilians, charges Russia denies. Putin ordered what he called a "special military operation" to protect Russian security. Ukraine and its allies accuse Russia of an unprovoked war to seize territory.