Zelenskiy pushes for swift EU membership in first trip to Brussels since invasion

Volodymyr Zelenskiy will call on European leaders to speed up the delivery of weapons to help his country repel Russia’s invasion, and to not put unnecessary obstacles in Ukraine’s path to EU membership, when he attends a special summit in Brussels.

After a trip to London and Paris, where the Ukrainian president met the leaders of Britain, France and Germany, Zelenskiy is meeting all 27 European Union leaders on Thursday.

Before the EU summit, Zelenskiy received several standing ovations from MEPs as he addressed the European parliament with a paean to “the European way of life”, in which he referred to democratic values, respect for diversity and the rule of law.

“This is our Europe. These are our rules. This is our way of life,” he told the packed chamber of MEPs in another speech well attuned to his audience. “I’m here in order to defend our people’s way home.”

He said Russia was trying to annihilate the “Ukrainian European way of life” through total war, describing the invading country as “the most anti-European force of the modern world”.


Wearing a plain black sweater embossed with United 24 (Ukraine’s war effort fundraising programme), Zelenskiy was presented with a European flag by the European parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, who said “Ukraine is Europe”. Both appeared moved as they listened to Ukraine’s national anthem and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the European anthem.

Zelenskiy was warm in his praise for the European parliament, which he recalled had endorsed his country’s bid to be an EU candidate country only six days after the Russian invasion. “That was the vision that motivated us to be strong and to stay the course,” he said. “Ukraine is going to be a member of the European Union.”

On the latest leg of his European tour, Zelenskiy is expected to focus on Ukraine’s need for military equipment and it campaign for speedy accession to the EU.

Related: Zelenskiy meets Macron and Scholz and repeats appeal for aircraft and arms for Ukraine

“My president travels to get results,” a senior Ukrainian official said on the eve of the trip. Ukraine’s European allies “need to speed up this month and next [in terms of military deliveries] because the next two months will be critical”.

Zelenskiy is seeking long-range artillery, the delivery of promised European tanks, and fighter jets and “ammunition, ammunition, ammunition”, the official said. The army is running out of Soviet-type shells and wants western equivalents to continue the war effort. “If we had all this already, we could be starting a counter-offensive,” the official added.

But some EU leaders are cautious about Zelenskiy’s request for fighter jets. Asked about this possibility, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said nothing was ruled out “as long as there is not an article 5 situation between Nato and Russia”. Nato article 5 enshrines the principle of collective defence, meaning that an attack on one is considered an attack on all.

The day before the summit, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, criticised “the public competition” among some countries over who could send more weapons to Ukraine. “What harms our unity is a public competition to outdo each other along the lines of battle tanks, submarines, aircraft,” he said.

Meanwhile, Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, suggested the EU should consider the joint purchasing of weapons for Ukraine, modelled on the Covid vaccines programme, in order to ensure the faster delivery of equipment. “The price goes up with every delay, with every hesitation,” she said.

EU insiders have described the visit as historic. “I am pretty sure that one physical meeting is more important than 10 meetings online, because you see the reactions, you see the dedication and self-confidence in the eyes of President Zelenskiy,” said Gitanas Nausėda, Lithuania’s president.

Zelenskiy has addressed six EU summits via video link, but this is his first trip to Brussels since Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago. After addressing the 27 leaders, he will hold numerous bilateral meetings.

These encounters will allow him to press the case for Ukraine’s speedy accession to the EU to more sceptical leaders. Ukraine, along with Moldova and Georgia, was granted candidate status in June last year, having filed its application only a few days after the Russian invasion. Western EU member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands think the process of joining could take years, even decades, and fear raising false hopes among Ukraine’s population.

Zelenskiy is expected to reiterate his call for Ukraine to be allowed to start membership negotiations in 2023, a procedural step that usually takes years after the approval of candidate status. “We would not like to be the hostages of any bureaucratic procedure,” said the Ukrainian official.

Ukraine’s other priority is gaining EU support for Zelenskiy’s 10-point peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of all Russian troops, restoration of Ukraine’s borders and a special tribunal for the prosecution of Russian war crimes.

On Thursday, European leaders are also set to express support for a “peace formula summit aiming at launching [the peace’s plan’s] implementation”, according to draft summit conclusions. The document also notes: “Russia has not shown any genuine willingness regarding a fair and sustainable peace.”