Zelenskyy pushes EU for weapons as he warns Russia wants to destroy European way of life

Geraint Vincent reports on Zelenskyy's speech to the EU

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has used a major speech to European leaders to call for more weapons to fend off Russian forces, as he urged the EU to stay the course in its support for Ukraine. The Ukrainian President, who is also asking for fighter jets, told the EU’s 27 member states on Thursday his besieged country needed vital supplies, as Ukrainian soldiers try to hold onto and reclaim territory.

Mr Zelenskyy, who was also seeking assurances that Ukraine could one day become part of the EU, added in his speech that Russia wants to destroy the European way of life, but “we will not allow that.”

Before his address, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said allies should consider “quickly, as a next step, providing long-range systems” and fighter jets.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, centre, gestures as European Parliament's President Roberta Metsola, right, applauds during the EU summit. Credit: AP

"Europe, we are defending ourselves against the biggest anti-European force of the modern world," the Ukrainian president said during his second trip abroad since Russia's invasion nearly a year ago.

"We, Ukrainians, on the battlefield, together with you."

“A Ukraine that is winning is going to be member of the European Union,” Mr Zelenskyy added. “Europe will always be, and remain Europe as long as we are together and as long as we take care of our Europe, as we take care of the European way of life."

Mr Zelenskyy held up an EU flag after his address and the entire legislature stood in silence as the Ukrainian national anthem and then European anthem “Ode to Joy” were played.

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent explains the significance of the Ukrainian president making his address to EU leaders

Josep Borrell, who chairs EU summits, told journalists the bloc's 27 national leaders would promise more military assistance for Ukraine, though further details were not provided.

Mr Zelenskyy’s pursuit of more Western military aid came as evidence mounted that Russia’s anticipated offensive around the anniversary of the invasion in late February is starting to take shape. The Kremlin’s forces “have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive” in the eastern Luhansk region, most of which is occupied by Russia, the Institute for the Study of War, said in its latest assessment.

Up to this point, Western countries have been resistant on the idea of sending warplanes that could strike deep inside Russia, amid fears of an escalation of the war.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy (front centre) poses with European Union leaders during a group photo at an EU summit in Brussels. Credit: AP

But Mr Zelenskyy's lobbying for weapons - as was seen during a rousing speech he gave in London on Wednesday - may be shifting opinions in European diplomatic circles.

Rishi Sunak said he is discussing further support for Ukraine with the Ukrainian president, potentially including fighter jets, but that the “first step” is training Ukrainian pilots.

The PM told broadcasters in Cornwall: “I also had very good conversations with President Zelensky yesterday about our ability to provide long-range missiles that they don’t currently have, which again are going to make a big difference in the struggle against Russian aggression. “And of course, we’re talking about further support, potentially with aircraft as well. The important first step of that journey is to make sure that we provide the training for Ukrainian pilots to be able to use that very sophisticated equipment. “And we announced yesterday that again, we’ll be the first nation to start training Ukrainian pilots on Nato-standard aircraft. “That’s a really positive forward step and we will continue to stand by Ukraine because we want to see them victorious.”

The UK also has announced it will start training Ukrainian air force pilots as part of a long-term strategy to safeguard Kyiv’s future. This marks a change in approach, with No 10 previously arguing it would take too long to train pilots to fly Western fighter planes to have an impact on the war in eastern Europe.

Mr Zelenskyy has warned without supplies, including jets, ammunition and long-range missiles, there is a risk of “stagnation” in the conflict. On the ground in Ukraine, Russian soldiers are attempting to take complete control of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to the Ukrainian military command. It said that over the last day, Russian troops maintained offensives in the regions of Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Novopavlivka and Vuhledar.

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