Macron, Scholz and Draghi pledge arms and EU path for Ukraine in Kyiv visit

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the high-profile show of collective European support for Ukraine

The leaders of the European Union's three largest economies visited Ukraine on Thursday, vowing to back Kyiv’s bid to become an official candidate to join the bloc.

French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian premier Mario Draghi arrived in Kyiv to the sound of air-raid sirens as they made the highest-profile show of collective European support for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.

President Klaus Iohannis of Romania - which borders Ukraine and has been a key destination for Ukrainian refugees - also made the journey, albeit on a separate train.

Alongside a promise to support Ukraine's EU candidacy, Mr Macron said it would give Ukraine six more powerful truck-mounted artillery guns, the latest in a new round of Western arms pledges for Ukraine as the war grinds on in the eastern Donbas region.

The leaders “are doing everything so that Ukraine alone can decide its fate,” Mr Macron said at a news conference.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Macron insisted France did not misjudge Moscow's invasion and rejected claims that many Ukrainians think he and other European leaders should have visited the country sooner.

"I'm sorry but I'm not sure that they [Ukrainians] are exactly thinking that," he said. "They are fighting hard and we have a lot of admiration and respect for them.

"And I was here beginning of February. And I think it was very useful to be here at that time and in Moscow."

After getting off the train in Kyiv, Mr Macron earlier said the group would visit sites where attacks have occurred and speak to Ukrainian officials about “both the present and the future” of the country.

“It is an important moment,” he said. "It is a message of European unity toward Ukrainians.”

Mr Scholz said the leaders are seeking to show solidarity but also their commitment to keeping up their financial and humanitarian help for Ukraine, and their supply of weapons, he was quoted as saying by German news agency dpa.

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He added that this support would continue “for as long as is necessary for Ukraine’s fight for independence,” dpa reported.

Mr Scholz said he believes sanctions against Russia are so significant they could lead to Moscow withdrawing troops.

The visit carries heavy symbolic weight given that the three Western European powers have often faced criticism for not providing Ukraine with the scale of weaponry that Mr Zelenskyy has been begging them for, and for their willingness to keep speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many leaders and people in the Baltic and Central European nations, which were controlled by Moscow during the Cold War, believe that Mr Putin only understands force, and have viewed the efforts by Mr Macron and others to keep speaking to Mr Putin following his invasion as unacceptable.

Mr Macron has been heavily involved in diplomatic efforts to push for a cease-fire in Ukraine that would allow future peace negotiations.

A woman runs from a house that's on fire after shelling in Donetsk. Credit: AP

He has frequent discussions with Mr Zelenskyy and has spoken on the phone several times with Mr Putin since he launched the invasion in late February.

Mr Scholz had long resisted travelling to Kyiv, saying he didn’t want to “join the queue of people who do a quick in-out for a photo opportunity.” Instead, he said a trip should focus on doing “concrete things".

Hopes were high among Ukrainians that the visit could mark a turning point by opening the way to significant new arms supplies.

The visit comes as EU leaders prepare to make a decision June 23 to 24 on Ukraine's request to become a candidate for EU membership, and ahead of an important NATO summit June 29-30 in Madrid.

On Tuesday, during a trip to Ukraine’s neighbours Romania and Moldova, Mr Macron said a “message of support” must be sent to Ukraine before EU heads of state and government “have to make important decisions” at their Brussels meeting.

On Thursday, NATO defence ministers are meeting in Brussels to weigh more military aid for Ukraine.

It comes after the US and Germany announced more aid, as America and its allies provide longer-range weapons they say can make a difference in a fight where Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned by their Russian invaders.