Ukraine will hold a summit with the European Union in Kiev this week, the government announced on Dec. 31, as it expressed hope the conference would bring the war-battered nation closer to membership of the bloc almost a year after Russia launched its invasion.
Kiev also announced it expected to receive up to 140 modern battle tanks from its Western allies, and the prospect of more advanced weapons for Ukraine came from the United States.
In his evening address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped the Friday summit would reflect a high “level of cooperation and progress” with the 27-member bloc, which Kiev has long sought to join.
“We are waiting for news for Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
The fact the summit is being held in the Ukrainian capital sends “a powerful signal to both partners and enemies”, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said.
“It is a message that Europe believes in Ukraine’s victory and supports our rapid movement towards EU membership,” he said.
Ukraine gained EU candidate status in June last year, several months after Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops rolling across the border.
No details were provided on who would attend the summit from the European Union side.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said a dozen countries had promised more than 100 tanks after Germany and the US signed off on the deliveries last week.
“These are Leopard 2, Challenger 2, M1 Abrams,” he added, without specifying a timeline for the deliveries.
The decision to supply the weapons came after weeks of diplomatic wrangling and was seen as a breakthrough in the West’s backing for Ukraine in its fight to win back territory from Russian forces.
Now Zelensky is urging the West to supply fighter jets and long-range missiles.
US President Joe Biden said Tuesday he would discuss the new requests for advanced weaponry with Zelensky.
“We’re going to talk,” Biden told reporters, speaking the morning after he answered with an emphatic “no” when asked at the White House whether he favoured sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
And The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a US defence company, General Atomics, had offered to sell Kiev two Reaper MQ-9 drones for a dollar, as it prepares for an expected Russian offensive.
Under the deal, Kiev would have to spend about $10 million to ship the aircraft to Ukraine, and about $8 million each year for maintenance, the Journal said, citing a letter from General Atomics to a Ukrainian diplomat.
There was no immediate comment on the report from Washington.
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu meanwhile announced that his country would send 12 more Caesar truck-mounted howitzers to Ukraine.
Russia has recently claimed gains in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, its defence ministry announcing it had “liberated” the village of Blagodatne, north of Bakhmut.
Blagodatne lies on a highway leading towards Bakhmut, and its announced capture comes not long after Ukraine conceded it had given up the nearby salt-mining town of Soledar.
AFP journalists around 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of Bakhmut heard sporadic shelling coming from Vugledar, which both Moscow and Kiev have said is seeing an uptick in fighting.
“It’s very tense, the more time passes the worse, worse and worse it gets,” said Oleksandr, a 45-year-old Ukrainian serviceman operating a mortar near Vugledar.
On Tuesday, Kiev said a 12-year-old boy and 70-year-old man were killed during Russia’s latest barrage in Bakhmut, which Moscow has been seeking to seize for months in some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
“The Russians are razing Bakhmut to the ground, killing everyone they can get their hands on,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the region’s governor.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused Ukraine of using banned anti-personnel landmines against invading Russian forces, saying almost 50 civilians, including five children, had been wounded.
Ukraine’s defence ministry insisted the army upholds its treaty obligations against mines, but will not comment on the types of weaponry used until the war ends.
International tensions remained high, with the US State Department on Tuesday accusing Russia of not complying with New START, the last remaining arms control treaty.
It urged Moscow to return to compliance by allowing inspection activities on its territory, which Moscow suspended in August, citing what it said was American obstruction of Russian checks.
A row is also brewing over Russia and ally Belarus’ participation in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday rebuffed Moscow’s demand that its athletes be treated the same as those of other countries, saying that the sanctions against both countries are “not negotiable”.
Organisers had last week floated that it was examining a “pathway” for Russians to compete in Paris as neutral athletes, rather than under their national flag.
The suggestion sparked a furious response from Kiev, which threatened to boycott the Games if Russians were allowed to take part in it, and one presidential aide accused the IOC of being a “promoter of war”.