Don’t betray Ukraine over EU accession, Zelenskiy urges leaders | European Union #Dont #betray #Ukraine #accession #Zelenskiy #urges #leaders #European #Union

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made an impassioned plea to European leaders gathered for talks on Ukraine not to “betray” his country by dithering on EU membership, which he said would put a “satisfied smile” on Vladimir Putin’s face.

In one of the most important summits in recent EU history, leaders of 26 member states are trying to find another €50bn (£43bn) for Ukraine and to approve the start of accession talks with the war-torn country. Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, has threatened to veto both.

“I ask you one thing today: do not betray the people and their faith in Europe,” Zelenskiy said in an address by video link to the leaders in Brussels. “It’s very important that Europe doesn’t fall back into indecision today. Nobody wants Europe to be seen as untrustworthy. Or as unable to take decisions it prepared itself.”

Orbán has insisted Ukraine is not ready for EU membership talks, defying the recommendation of the European Commission and the wishes of fellow leaders that the talks should start this weekend.

The split in Europe comes at a critical time for Zelenskiy, who is struggling to persuade US Republicans to support a $61bn (£47.9bn) military aid package for Ukraine, with objectors insisting on White House concessions on US border security as a condition for a deal.

Zelenskiy said history would remember the leaders who failed to choose Ukraine. “Today is the day when determination will either be in Brussels or Moscow. People in Europe won’t understand if Putin’s satisfied smile becomes the reward for a meeting in Brussels,” he said.

“Today is a special day. And this day will go down in our history. Whether it’s good or bad for us, history will capture everything. Every word, every step, every action and inaction. Who fought for what.”

EU leaders had expected to sail through the summit on the issue of EU membership for Ukraine and Moldova after a formal recommendation by the European Commission in November that both countries had instituted sufficient reforms to start negotiations next year.

But soon after the recommendation, Orbán, who boasts of ties with Putin, threatened to use Hungary’s right to veto the talks going ahead, raising questions over his loyalty to the European project. He has repeatedly doubled down, threatening to also block the €50bn fund for Kyiv from the bloc’s budget.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, have redoubled efforts to try to persuade Orbán he is taking the wrong path at such a critical juncture. But at a breakfast meeting on Thursday they did not appear to have persuaded him to yield.

If EU leaders were to approve the start of membership talks and the four-year financial package, Kyiv would be able to claim a geopolitical victory. Failure to agree would probably be portrayed by Moscow as a sign of faltering western support for Ukraine.

Putin said in a press conference and phone-in on Thursday that it looked like foreign aid was running out for Ukraine.

The Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said of the EU summit: “The most important thing that we need to decide here today and this weekend is that long-term financial support for Ukraine will be coming from the European Union. If Ukraine doesn’t have support from the EU and the US then Putin will win.” He described it as one of the most important summits he had attended.

Roberta Metsola, the president of the European parliament, said it was the EU’s “moral responsibility” to take the “next political step” and start membership talks with Ukraine.

#Dont #betray #Ukraine #accession #Zelenskiy #urges #leaders #European #Union

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