Ukraine's Zelensky urges faster arms supplies at EU summit
Two weeks ahead of the first anniversary of Europe's most brutal conflict since the 1940s, Zelensky embarked on only his second foreign trip since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion.
After Wednesday's visits to London and Paris to lobby Britain, France and Germany for modern fighter jets and long-range missiles, the former actor turned war leader came to Brussels to address EU leaders and MEPs.
The European Parliament treated Zelensky to cheers and a standing ovation as he portrayed Ukraine as the country fighting to defend Europe's eastern borders and urged a rapid welcome into the EU fold.
"We are defending against the most anti-European force of the modern world - we are defending ourselves, we Ukrainians on the battlefield, along with you," Zelensky told MEPs.
Parliamentary speaker Roberta Metsola, reflecting the warm response of other senior EU officials, declared: "Ukraine is Europe and your nation's future is in the European Union.
"States must consider, quickly, as a next step, providing long-range systems and the jets you need to protect the liberty too many have taken for granted," she said.
After the parliamentary address, Zelensky joined the 27 leaders of the EU member states as the special guest at their regular summit, invited by European Council president to make an opening address.
"I have to thank you personally for your unwavering support of our country and our aspirations, our aspirations to live in a united, free Europe," he told them, after receiving warm applause as the leaders gathered for a group photo.
But he also warned the leaders that Ukraine needs ro receive artillery, munitions, modern tanks, long-range missiles and fighter jets "faster than the aggressor" can prepare what he said would be a dangerous new offensive.
"We are talking about aggression not just against Ukraine, but against Europe," he said.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said: "It's very important that we speed up military aid to Ukraine. I think all of us looked in the warehouses at what we have. But we should do more."
But the Kremlin reacted with its usual grim warning.
"We see this as a growing engagement of Germany, UK, France in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The boundary between indirect and direct engagement is gradually disappearing. We can only regret it," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
"The actions of these countries lead to an escalation of tensions... make this conflict more painful... and these actions will not change the objectives of our country within the framework of the special military operation."
The NATO and EU powers of Europe have been, along with the United States, the main backers of Ukraine's beleaguered defenders since President Vladimir Putin's Russia unleashed a full-scale invasion on February 24 last year.
The EU leaders will tout the 67 billion euros ($72 billion) they have spent on military and financial aid to Kyiv, including funds spent on hosting four million Ukrainian refugees.
Macron and Scholz also pledged that Europe would back Ukraine until its eventual victory.
Arriving at the summit, Scholz told reporters: "We are gathered here today to give a sign of solidarity and unity.
"We can send out this signal once again and show that we will continue our support for Ukraine in defending its independence and integrity for as long as necessary."
But one leader sounded a different note. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the EU leader closest to Putin, did not applaud as Zelensky joined his colleagues for the group photo.
In a social media post, he said Hungary would send Kyiv humanitarian aid but called for an immediate ceasefire, rather than Ukrainian victory. "Hungary belongs to the peace camp!" he declared.
In frontline eastern Ukraine, the Lugansk regional governor warned that Russia was attacking Ukrainian forces near the town of Kreminna and "systematically destroying" three nearby communities.
"For the offensive, we need more armoured vehicles and ammunition," the statement said.
Moscow says Russian forces were advancing on Bakhmut and Vugledar - two key centres of fighting in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, now the flashpoint of the war.
Updated maps of Russia have gone on sale in Moscow bookstores that include four annexed Ukrainian regions: Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Lugansk and Donetsk. Putin regularly refers to them as "our historical lands".