France’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne met Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday on his first official visit abroad, vowing that Paris would maintain its support.
His visit came a day after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a fresh package of military help in Kyiv, and as Ukraine waits to see if Brussels and Washington will unlock massive sums of new aid.
“Despite the multiplying crises, Ukraine is and will remain France’s priority,” Sejourne told Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a joint news conference earlier Saturday.
Later, he held talks with Zelensky that lasted for about an hour, a source close to the minister told AFP.
“I appreciate France’s unwavering defence support for our soldiers and assistance to our people,” Zelensky wrote on X.
Zelensky also made it clear he appreciated the significance of Sejourne making Ukraine his first official stop following his appointment. “We are grateful for this signal,” he told the minister.
In his evening address, Zelensky said they had discussed Ukraine’s defence needs, “including joint production of drones, artillery, and further strengthening of air defence”.
Ukraine endured another wave of overnight strikes by Russia from Friday to Saturday. Moscow has stepped up its aerial attacks in recent weeks.
- ‘Values of Europe’ at stake -
Sejourne’s visit came at a time when allies are struggling to secure funding and as some worry that Kyiv could be forgotten as other conflicts, such as that between Israel and Hamas, take centre stage.
Major blocks of funding, in Brussels and in Washington, have also been tied up for political reasons.
The European Union is due to hold a meeting on February 1 to unblock the 50-billion-euro aid package for Ukraine, vetoed by Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban.
But with the EU package stalled and the US Congress still divided over sending additional aid to Ukraine, Kyiv is feeling the pressure.
Aid promised to Ukraine between August and October 2023 fell almost 90 percent from the same period in 2022, reaching its lowest point since the start of the war, according to a Kiel Institute survey from December.
Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have warned that any delay would seriously affect the course of the war.
Sejourne earlier promised that France would do all it could to help. Its military support so far amounts to 3.2 billion euros, according to a parliamentary report published in November.
Britain’s aid to Ukraine, after Sunak unveiled its latest package in Kyiv on Friday, now takes the UK’s overall support for Ukraine’s war efforts to nearly £12 billion.
“The fundamental principles of international law and the values of Europe, as well as the security interests of the French” are at stake in Ukraine, Sejourne said at the press conference with Kuleba.
“Russia hopes Ukraine and its supporters will get tired before it does. We will not falter,” Sejourne added.
But Russia, bolstering its arsenal, has geared up for a long war and reoriented its economy.
- ‘Strengthen Ukraine’ -
It has in recent weeks intensified its aerial assaults on the war-torn country.
Russia launched 40 missiles and drones over the country in an overnight barrage, the Ukrainian air force said, adding that it destroyed eight missiles and disabled over 20 devices.
Russia said it targeted places producing ammunition and drones and had hit “all designated facilities”.
Ukrainian authorities did not report any dead in the latest barrage but one civilian was wounded in the Sumy region.
At the press conference with Sejourne, Kuleba said the two had “discussed the further supply of systems and missiles to protect the Ukrainian sky, as well as the supply of drones to Ukraine”.
“We are entering a new phase of defence cooperation” aiming to “strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to produce the weapons it needs on its own soil,” Sejourne said.
Kuleba confirmed that the two countries had agreed to “work on creating the most favourable conditions for the interaction of our defence companies”, including legally.
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