Ukraine's Zelenskiy heads to Berlin, Paris to drum up wartime aid

  • World
  • Friday, 16 Feb 2024

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at a press conference on Monday, January 15, 2024, in Kehrsatz near Bern, Switzerland. Keystone/Alessandro Della Valle/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy landed in Germany on Friday as part of a tour to drum up vital military assistance and sign bilateral security commitments as the war with Russia nears its third year.

The trip comes as Kyiv's troops are trying to hold back Russian forces closing in on the eastern town of Avdiivka. Ukraine faces a shortage of manpower and ammunition stockpiles, while U.S. military aid has been delayed for months.

It will mark Zelenskiy's first foreign trip since he replaced his popular army chief and reshuffled his military command, a big gamble at a difficult juncture in the war that he said was needed to face shifting battlefield challenges.

Germany and France were poised to become the second and third Ukrainian allies to sign bilateral security deals that would establish terms for continued support until Ukraine reaches its goal of joining the NATO military alliance.

"I am starting two important days. Meetings with partners in Germany and France, new agreements, and the Munich Security Conference," Zelenskiy said on social media as he landed in Germany.

"A new security architecture for Ukraine, as well as new opportunities. We are making every effort to end the war as soon as possible on fair Ukrainian terms and ensure a lasting peace."

The details of the agreements to be signed with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are not yet known, but Kyiv has said it wants to use the first deal signed with Britain in January as a framework.

London said that agreement formalised a range of support it has given and will continue to provide for Ukraine's security.

It also created a commitment to hold consultations with Kyiv within 24 hours in the event Ukraine faces a future Russian armed attack, and to provide swift and sustained security assistance.

Kyiv says the security arrangements with allies would in no way replace its strategic goal of joining NATO, which regards any attack launched on one of its 31 members as an attack on all under its Article Five provision.

Scholz's chancellery said a bilateral agreement about security assurances and long-term support will be signed, without providing more details ahead of the meeting.

French officials gave little detail about the bilateral agreement between Paris and Kyiv ahead of the signing ceremony expected at the Elysee palace in Paris on Friday evening.

They said the deal included economic and financial elements and was not restricted to military ones.

"The logic behind it is support for Ukraine over the long term, in order to make Russian aggression fail," one French official said.

Some figures will be mentioned in the deal, they said, but added that France refused to take part in any "beauty contest" and that the quality of material provided to Ukraine was at least as important as the quantity.

Germany has been pressing both European and U.S. partners for more rigorous commitments on military supplies for Ukraine, with Chancellor Scholz travelling to Washington to shore up aid for Kyiv's needs.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said his country envisaged 3.5 billion euro for ammunition supplies this year and would deliver three to four times more in 2024 compared to 2023.

Zelenskiy was also expected to give a speech at the Munich security conference on Saturday. Several bilateral meetings on the sidelines are planned, including with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa in Gdansk, Michel Rose in Paris and Alexander Ratz and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; writing by Yuliia Dysa and Matthias Williams; editing by Tom Balmforth, Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

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