Ukrainian president pays surprise visit to France

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz shake hands during a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron (center) at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris, on Feb 8, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

LONDON/KIEV/PARIS – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was in the United Kingdom on Wednesday to discuss defense cooperation followed by a Paris stopover to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Earlier in the day, Scholz told the German lower house of parliament (Bundestag) that despite providing military assistance to Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) must not become a party to the country's conflict with Russia.

During a press conference held at the Elysee Wednesday night, French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed "unwavering" support of France and Europe to Ukraine

In London, Zelensky addressed both houses of the British Parliament after meeting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street. He then met King Charles III at Buckingham Palace. In his Parliament speech, Zelensky thanked the UK for its support and appealed for fighter jets.

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The UK government said in a statement on Wednesday that it had already trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops to "battle readiness" over the past six months and would "upskill" a further 20,000 this year, without mentioning the provision of jets.

In Paris, Zelensky asked again for weapons, adding that Ukraine needed heavy armament and planes "as soon as possible." A tri-party dinner was held at the French presidential office to "continue the close coordination which makes it possible to respond quickly and effectively to the needs expressed by Kiev," according to the Elysee.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) hold a press conference at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset in southern England on Feb 8, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

During a press conference held at the Elysee Wednesday night, Macron reaffirmed "unwavering" support of France and Europe to Ukraine. 

Macron and Scholz both said that France, Germany and the European Union intended  to continue their "efforts" to deliver weapons. Scholz stressed that Germany would continue to support Ukraine "for as long as necessary."

In his speech to Bundestag ahead of a special meeting of the European Council to discuss the conflict, Scholz warned though against a "public competition to outdo each other along the lines of battle tanks, submarines, aircraft…" This would harm the unity of the West, he said, Xinhua reports from Berlin.

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Due to increasing pressure on Germany by NATO partners to supply heavy artillery to Ukraine, the German government decided in late January to deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks, and to permit partners to re-export from their Leopard stocks. In addition, the export of up to 178 of the older Leopard 1 tanks was later approved.

The US followed suit shortly afterward, with President Joe Biden announcing the delivery of Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine. However, experts say it will be months before the German and American tanks are delivered.

Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia's lower house, warned last month that the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine would lead to retaliation with "more powerful weapons."

On Thursday, Zelensky, Macron and Scholz will meet again in Brussels during a special European Council meeting scheduled over Feb 9-10.