Zelensky pushes for Ukraine’s support at the summit of European leaders in Moldova

POLBWACA, Moldova (AP) — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is relentlessly seeking more political and security support from NATO. He received a standing ovation but no concrete commitments Thursday during a sprawling summit at which nearly every European leader gathered to denounce uninvited Russia and Belarus.

Zelensky, looking hoarse from rallying support for his country week after week, made a surprise visit to neighboring Moldova that ended up as the focal point of an event designed to smooth over regional conflicts and shore up Europe’s unity in the face of Russia’s war..

After a day of talks at a luxury winery in the countryside, Zelensky said Ukraine’s best security guarantee is membership in NATO and the European Union, and that any proposed peace plans to end his country’s 15-month-old war cannot take into account Russian concerns.

He told the leaders sitting with him that during the NATO summit scheduled for July, “there is a need for a clear invitation to Ukraine’s membership, and there is a need for security guarantees on the way to NATO membership.” Zelensky added that Ukraine also needed a “clear positive decision” on its accession to the European Union in the fall.

French President Emmanuel Macron, the instigator at the European Political Community summit, supported Zelensky’s call.

With the upcoming meeting of NATO leaders on July 11-12 in the Lithuanian capital, Macron said, “it is essential that the Vilnius summit offers this strong guarantee, new reliable guarantees and a clear perspective for Ukraine.”

Zelensky is pursuing an economic future for Ukraine in the rich 27-nation European Union just as quickly. He wants to get a full commitment from EU leaders when they meet in October to start membership talks.

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Ukraine has made impressive progress on the road to the European Union. We are on your side. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised.

The European Union hopes to use Thursday’s summit to reach out to the many Eastern European countries that have spent decades either within the Soviet Union or under its direct influence, and to promote the continent’s united response to Russian aggression.

Macron said the summit produced tangible results, and that the leaders committed themselves to extending the European Union’s cyber and critical infrastructure protection regimes to all countries of the European Political Community that sought it. He also said states would get better protection against disinformation.

The choice to hold the summit in Moldova, a former Soviet republic of about 2.6 million people and the poorest country in Europe, was seen as a message to the Kremlin from both the EU and Moldova’s pro-Western government, which is a candidate for EU membership. Membership at the same time as Ukraine in June 2022.

Embraced on three sides by Ukraine, Moldova aspires to join the European Union by the end of the decade, and has consistently expressed support for Ukraine and taken in refugees fleeing the war.

The summit venue was only 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Ukrainian border. Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, has warned of alleged plots By Moscow to overthrow its government using external saboteurs.

Late in the summit, Sandu said her country was on an “irreversible path to EU accession”, and that she and her European partners had told Zelensky that “we will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes”.

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Zelensky was the first foreign leader to reach the summit venue on Thursday. Dressed in his olive green shirt and oversized trousers, he endeavored to dispel doubts about his country’s accession to the EU and NATO, and told the assembled leaders that Moscow would exploit any such concerns.

“We must remember that every doubt we show here in Europe is a moat that Russia will surely try to occupy,” he said.

Zelensky urged continued Western military aid to Ukraine, saying it saves lives and “quite literally accelerates peace”. He insisted that all of Russia’s neighbors should be full members of the European Union and NATO, because Moscow “is only trying to swallow those who are outside the common security sphere.”

“When there are no security guarantees, there are only war guarantees,” he said.

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Casert reported from Brussels. Jovana Geck in Belgrade, Serbia, and Frank Jordan in Berlin, contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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