BRUSSELS: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday (Feb 9) that several European Union leaders were ready to provide Kyiv with aircraft to help it fight against Russia's invasion.
Speaking during his first in-person meeting with all the 27 national leaders of a union Ukraine wants to join, Zelenskyy did not say who could provide jets, adding that some deals were still in the works, while others could not be made public.
While he said that "Free Europe cannot be imagined without free Ukraine", and despite all the cheers and standing ovations he received during his Brussels visit, Zelenskyy heard from European Council chief Charles Michel that the road to EU membership would be long and hard.
EU countries have supplied large amounts of arms to Ukraine over the past year and have become increasingly comfortable with sending heavy weaponry such as battle tanks.
But they have yet to commit - publicly at least - to sending fighter jets and longer-range rockets, citing worries about a potential escalation of the conflict onto Russian territory.
"Europe will be with us until our victory. I've heard it from a number of European leaders ... about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including the aircraft," Zelenskyy told a news conference in Brussels.
He did not elaborate, but said more would be decided in bilateral meetings with some of the leaders later in the day.
Zelenskyy, who wore a black sweatshirt emblazoned with a small Ukrainian flag and "United24", the name of his initiative to raise charitable donations for Ukraine following Russia's invasion, also asked the EU for more sanctions against Russia, including in the IT sector, to curb Moscow's ability to produce missiles for the war.
STANDING OVATIONS, BUT MUCH WORK AHEAD
Ukraine, which wants to join the EU, is pushing for membership talks to start this year.
Zelenskyy told EU leaders they would go down in history, just as the founding fathers of the bloc did, if they now help bring peace to Ukraine and bring it into the EU.
But while some EU countries are keen to give Ukraine the morale boost that would come with starting talks to join the bloc, others are much more cautious. They have stressed would-be members need to meet a range of criteria - such as cracking down on corruption - before they can even start negotiations.
When Zelenskyy told the news conference that "when I say this year I mean this year, 2023", Michel told him he would first need to have all member states agree to it.
Michel stressed that "the road to peace, reconstruction and membership will be a long, hard road," before adding: "We'll be with you every step of the way."
The European Commission is set to say in October if Ukraine meets the criteria to start accession talks, and then it requires member states to unanimously agree on it.
Earlier in the day, in an address to the European Parliament, Zelenskyy expressed gratitude for the support of both politicians and ordinary citizens in the EU.
"I would like to thank you, all of you, who have been helping our people, he said, after he received a long standing ovation from EU lawmakers, cheering and applauding, some of them wearing the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag.