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EU chief talks cooperation with Zelensky in Kyiv

#chief #talks #cooperation #Zelensky #Kyiv

EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen was in Kyiv Thursday for her first visit to Ukraine since the war-scarred country became a candidate for bloc membership, angering Moscow.

Her trip coincides with a highly-touted meeting between the leaders of Russia and China in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan for a regional summit that Moscow and Beijing have said offers an alternative to Western global influence.

It also comes as Ukrainian forces have been consolidating gains against Russian forces in the east of the country in a dramatic offensive aided by Western weapons.

Von der Leyen said Thursday’s visit was her third to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February, but that this one was different.

“So much has changed. Ukraine is now an EU candidate,” she said on social media.

“I’ll discuss with (President Volodymyr) Zelensky and (Prime Minister) Denys Shmygal how to continue getting our economies and people closer while Ukraine progresses towards accession,” she said.

Ukraine gained EU candidacy status in June at the same time as ex-Soviet Moldova, which borders Ukraine and like its neighbour has had Russian troops stationed in an eastern breakaway region.

The historic vote angered Moscow, which has tried to retain political and military influence in both countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

EU countries have staunchly supported Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February by hitting Russia with waves of economic penalties. 

And many members of the bloc have supplied Kyiv with advanced weapons that have helped Ukrainian forces in recent weeks recapture swathes of territory from Russia.

Von der Leyen said just ahead of her trip that the successive waves of EU sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine would remain and that Europeans must keep their resolve against Moscow.

– Zelensky pledges Ukraine victory –

“I want to make it very clear, the sanctions are here to stay,” she told the European Parliament during her annual State of the Union speech.

The Kremlin maintains that Russia has weathered the economic penalties and Moscow has responded by reducing or halting entirely gas flows to European countries.

With winter fast approaching, this has forced the EU to source alternative supplies, agree plans to cut consumption and roll out financial support in the face of skyrocketing prices.

Ukraine and its allies however have been buoyed by gains in the eastern Kharkiv region that borders Russia over recent days and Zelensky promised an overall Ukrainian “victory” while visiting the crucial hub of Izyum recaptured this week.

Ukraine’s forces have also posted slower, but steady gains in the southern Kherson region near the Black Sea.

The Ukrainian presidency said on Thursday that intense fighting was ongoing around that southern front and that the military situation there “remains extremely difficult.”

In the eastern Donetsk region, which has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, fresh shelling killed two civilians and left another 13 wounded.

Ukraine launched a mandatory drive to evacuate civilians from the eastern industrial region, where its forces have also announced gains, ahead of the counter-offensive but many civilians remain.

The meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping is a chance for them both to thumb their noses at the West, especially the United States, which has led the charge in imposing sanctions on Russia over Ukraine.

Beijing has not explicitly endorsed Moscow’s invasion, it has steadily built economic and strategic ties with Russia over the six months of the war, and Xi has assured his counterpart of his support of Russian “sovereignty and security”.

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