Sat, 03 Jun 2023

Top EU officials met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a summit in Kyiv on Friday in a show of support for the country as it battles to counter Russia's forces and strives to join the 27-member bloc. Ahead of the summit, European Council President Charles Michel said Moscow's invasion of Ukraine was a "turning point" for the EU in an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24. Follow our blog to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

This live blog is no longer being updated. Click here for more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine.

9:15pm: Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics

With next year's Paris Olympics on the horizon, Ukraine's sports minister has renewed a threat to boycott the games if Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete.

No nation has declared it will boycott the 2024 Summer Games. But Ukraine won support from Poland, the Baltic nations and Denmark, who pushed back against an International Olympic Committee plan to allow delegations from Russia and ally Belarus to compete in Paris as "neutral athletes", without flags or anthems.

"We cannot compromise on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes," said Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait, who also heads its national Olympic committee, citing attacks on his country, the deaths of its athletes and the destruction of its sports facilities.

A meeting of his committee did not commit to a boycott but approved plans to try to persuade global sports officials in the next two months - including discussion of a possible boycott.

Huttsait added: "As a last option, but I note that this is my personal opinion, if we do not succeed, then we will have to boycott the Olympic Games."

7:45pm: New EU sanctions to hit Russia's trade and technology

The European Union's next package of sanctions against Russia will hit the trade and technology that supports its war against Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said in a tweet.

"Our 9 packages of sanctions are biting, and a 10th one is on its way. With our partners, we must deny Russia the means to kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy homes and offices," von der Leyen said.

"New measures will hit the trade and technology that supports Russia's war machine," she added.

7:15pm: France and Italy to send Ukraine missile systems

France and Italy have agreed to deliver mobile surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine, the French defence ministry has said.

The systems, called MAMBA or SAMP, are a vehicle-mounted battery of medium-range missiles designed to offer protection from airborne threats such as missiles and manned or unmanned aircraft. They will help Ukraine "defend itself against Russian drones, missiles and aircraft", the ministry said.

The deliveries were a response to an urgent request by Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov made to his French and Italian counterparts to assist with "the protection of civilian populations and infrastructure from Russian air attacks", it said in a statement.

During a visit by Reznikov to Paris on Tuesday, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu had already announced that his country would ship 12 more Caesar truck-mounted howitzers and fresh air defence equipment to Ukraine.

5:50pm: Ukraine wins EU pledges of support, but no promise of fast-track accession

The European Union has offered strong support for Ukraine at the summit held in Kyiv today, without setting a timeline for the country's future accession to the bloc.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen praised Kyiv's reform efforts for what she said was "the precision, the quality and speed at which you deliver", describing Ukrainian efforts as "phenomenal" while the war is raging in the east and south.

President Volodymyr Zelensky also used the summit to step up calls for his allies to deliver long-range weapons to help repel Russian forces besieging the city of Bakhmut and occupying much of the Donbas region in the east of the country.

FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports from Kyiv.

5:35pm: Ukraine says new tanks will serve as 'iron fist' in counter-offensive

New tanks supplied by NATO countries will serve as an "iron fist" in a counter-offensive to break through Russian defensive lines, Ukraine's defence minister has said.

The official, Oleksii Reznikov, told a news briefing with his Polish counterpart that Western supplies of 155-mm artillery were vital for Ukraine to weather Russia's own attacks in the south and in the east.

"The new tank coalition with the main tanks of NATO countries - we need this for the counteroffensive, we will use it like an iron fist to break through their defensive lines," he said.

4:20pm: EU says Ukraine has made 'considerable efforts' toward membership

Ukraine has made "considerable efforts" to advance towards membership, the EU has said in a statement, while urging Kyiv to implement more reforms.

"The EU acknowledged the considerable efforts that Ukraine demonstrated in the recent months," the statement read.

The bloc said it "encouraged the country to continue on this path and to fulfil the conditions specified in the Commission's opinion on its membership application in order to advance towards future EU membership".

In a tweet, the Commission's chief Ursula von der Leyen described Ukraine as "a true inspiration for Europe".

4:05pm: Air alert sounds in Kyiv for second time since start of summit

Air raid sirens wailed in Kyiv and across Ukraine for a second time as top European Union officials visited the country, according to Reuters witnesses.

There were no immediate reports of any Russian air strikes on Kyiv throughout the day.

3:35pm: 'Ukraine is the EU, the EU is Ukraine,' says bloc chief Charles Michel

Speaking after Zelensky, European Union chief Charles Michel reiterated support for Ukraine's closer integration with the bloc.

"Ukraine is the EU, the EU is Ukraine," Michel told the press conference in Kyiv, adding: "The EU is with you today, the EU will be with you and your people tomorrow."

3:20pm: EU sanctions should prevent Russia from rebuilding military capability

European Union sanctions on Russia should aim to ensure Moscow cannot rebuild its military capability, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has told a joint news conference with EU leaders in Kyiv.

Zelensky said Ukraine would fight to hold on to the eastern "fortress" city of Bakhmut for as long as it could, and urged the West to supply long-range weapons to help Kyiv push Russian forces out of the Donbas region.

The Ukrainian leader, who reiterated Kyiv's call to open negotiations on joing the EU "this year", made the comments flanked by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.

"Our goal is absolutely clear: to start negotiations on Ukraine's membership in the European Union. We will not lose a single day in our work to bring Ukraine and the EU closer together," Zelensky added.

2:45pm: Are EU-Ukraine talks raising unrealistic expectations?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, are holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today at a key summit in Kyiv.

Zelensky is pressing for a quick start to negotiations over Ukraine's accession to the EU, but may be left disappointed by the talks, says FRANCE 24's Europe editor Armen Georgian.

1:37pm: Ukraine unveils criminal case against Wagner boss

Ukraine unveiled a criminal case on Friday against the boss of Russia's Wagner mercenary company, and promised to track down and prosecute the company's fighters who try to flee abroad.

Wagner, run by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has recruited thousands of fighters, including convicts from Russian prisons, to wage war in Ukraine.

Prigozhin says his group is pivotal in recent battles in the east of Ukraine, among the bloodiest of the war.

"The Prosecutor General's Office has served a notice of suspicion to the head of the private military company 'Wagner', Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said in a statement on Facebook that did not identify Prigozhin by name. "The head of this group is directly responsible for thousands of war crimes. He openly admits his role in the war against Ukraine and, with the Kremlin's permission, resolves staff issues by recruiting tens of thousands of prisoners."

There was no immediate comment from Prigozhin.

1:15pm: Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a 'turning point', says EU Council chief Charles Michel

"We understood right away that we were faced with violent aggression by Russia, and it was a turning point in Europe's history," European Council President Charles Michel told FRANCE 24.

"And this turning point required Europe's leaders to stand up, and that is how we immediately defined our strategy."

Michel also highlighted the progress Ukraine has made on its path to EU membership.

"I believe it is in our interest to support, to the greatest extent possible, Ukraine's efforts to join the bloc," he said. "It's obvious that they have the political will to put the necessary reforms into place. In just the few months since they were given candidate status in June, important first steps have been taken in terms of fighting corruption and reinforcing the independence of their justice system."

"This flagrant violation of international law by Russia was a threat to the whole world."

12:03pm: Germany confirms approval of Leopard 1 tank deliveries to Ukraine

Germany has approved the export of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine from industry stocks, a government spokesperson said on Friday at a regular news conference in Berlin.

The spokesperson declined to comment on the number of tanks that would be exported.

11:45am: Norway police to continue interrogation of former Wagner commander

Norwegian police said on Friday they intend to continue to interrogate former Wagner group commander Andrei Medvedev, who fled from Russia to Norway last month after fighting in the war in Ukraine.

Medvedev remains a witness and is not under any obligation to talk to investigators, the police said in a statement.

11:11am: Kremlin says EU ban on Russian oil products will roil markets

The Kremlin warned Friday of a "further imbalance" to global energy markets ahead of an EU embargo on Russian oil products due to come into force this weekend.

"Naturally this will lead to a further imbalance of the international energy markets, but we are taking measures to hedge our interests against the risks associated," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

11:08am: NATO calls on Russia to fulfill obligations under Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty

NATO called on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the nuclear reductions treaty START, it said in a statement on Friday.

"We note with concern that Russia has failed to comply with legally-binding obligations, including on inspection and call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet.

10:32am: EU Council chief Charles Michel vows 'support' for Ukraine's bloc membership bid

EU Council chief Charles Michel arrived in Kyiv Friday to join a summit with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and vowed support for Ukraine's bid to join the bloc.

"Back in Kyiv for the EU-Ukraine summit with Zelensky (European Commission chief) Ursula von der Leyen and (EU senior diplomat) Josep Borrell. There will be no let up in our resolve. We will also support you every step of the way on your journey to the EU," Michel said on Twitter.

10:05am: Russian-installed Crimea authorities nationalise properties of Ukrainian politicians and businessmen

Russian-installed authorities in Crimea said Friday that they had nationalised around 500 properties in the peninsula including some belonging to senior Ukrainian politicians and business figures.

In a statement on Telegram, Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of the Crimean parliament, said that the decree targeted "accomplices of the Kyiv regime" and that the nationalised properties included banks and tourist and sport infrastructure.

According to a document published on a Crimean government website, properties belonging to former Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and businessmen Igor Kolomoisky, Rinat Akhmetov and Serhiy Taruta were among those confiscated.

Crimea, which is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine, has been controlled by Moscow since 2014, when Russia unilaterally annexed the peninsula.

9:48am: Air raid sirens sound in Kyiv before EU-Ukraine summit

Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv and across Ukraine on Friday before the start of a summit bringing together senior Ukrainian officials and EU representatives.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Ukraine's capital Kyiv on Thursday with the EU's senior diplomat, Josep Borrell, for talks on Ukrainian EU membership.

While the EU backs Ukraine and supports democratic and economic reforms there, it does not offer a fast track to membership. EU membership involves multiple entry requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws, and the process of joining takes years.

EU leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine last year, just months after Russia's invasion.

>> Facing an existential threat, Ukraine seeks 'immediate' EU membership - but can the bloc deliver?

8:21am: Ukraine 'likely to be disappointed' by summit

FRANCE 24's Ukraine correspondent Gulliver Cragg said Friday that Ukraine was "likely to be disappointed" by the summit.

"The Ukrainians are piling on the pressure by continually insisting that they want accession negotiations to start this year," Cragg reported from Kyiv.

However, Ukraine is unlikely to obtain a fixed date for when negotiations to join the EU would start, said Cragg, suggesting that a date for accession negotiations might only be fixed in the autumn.

"The Europeans have got a certain number of very strong recommendations in terms of what Ukraine needs to do in its fight against corruption," Cragg said, adding that the Ukrainians "aren't losing hope" that negotiations could start soon.

Nevertheless, Cragg said the presence of so many top EU officials (15 European commissioners in addition to the president of the European Commission and the head of the European Council) at the summit in Kyiv sent a "very strong signal" of support to Ukraine.

6:00am: Ukraine's allies pushing IMF to approve loan of $14-16 billion, according to the Financial Times

Ukraine's allies are pushing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to finalise plans for a multibillion-dollar lending programme, the Financial Times reported on Friday.

IMF representatives are planning to meet Ukrainian officials in mid-February to advance discussions over a loan that could range from $14 billion to $16 billion, the report said, citing officials familiar with the talks.

5:28am: Ukraine summit to deliver on some issues, disappoint on others

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, will hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday. Von der Leyen and other high-ranking EU officials held talks with Ukrainian officials after arriving in Kyiv on Thursday.

Zelensky called for more punitive measures against Russia by the European Union, but new sanctions the bloc is preparing are set to fall short of his government's demands.

"We reached a very important mutual understanding," Zelensky said of Thursday's talks. "That only together - a strong Ukraine and a strong European Union - can we defend the life that we value, and through our further integration, provide energy and motivation for our people to fight on regardless of obstacles and threats."

12:00am: Germany approves Leopard 1 tanks delivery to Ukraine

The German government has approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from industrial stocks and is in talks over purchasing back 15 Gepard tanks from Qatar to send to Kyiv, German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Friday.

The delivery of the Leopard tanks to Ukraine could happen anytime once the tanks are repaired, the newspaper reported, citing government sources.

Several German officials discussed with Qatar's foreign ministry a possible purchase of 15 Gepard tanks that Doha had bought to secure the World Cup stadiums, the newspaper said, adding that Berlin was trying to get more ammunition from Qatar. "The Gepards have proven themselves very well in the war in Ukraine. If we could get more from partners here, that would definitely help the Ukrainians," new German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

10:35pm: Putin's 'extraordinarily delusional' on Stalingrad speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech at an event marking the Soviet victory over Nazi forces in Stalingrad, in which he said that Russia is threatened by German tanks like it was during the Second World War, was "extraordinarily delusional", said FRANCE 24 chief foreign editor Robert Parsons. "Let's remember Russia invaded Ukraine [...]; it is Russian troops, Russian tanks, Russian aircraft that are on the territory of Ukraine."

Ukraine is defending itself with "weapons supplied by the West, but it's not the same as to say Ukraine [is] attacking Russia", Parsons underlined.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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