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Europe Day: What did von der Leyen come to Kyiv with?


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the Ukrainian capital on 9 May to celebrate Europe Day. She stressed that Ukraine is part of one European family. How was she received in Kyiv?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday, 9 May. This year, 9 May will be celebrated for the first time in Ukraine as Europe Day, according to a decree issued by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “Good to be back in Kyiv. Where the values we hold dear are defended every day. So it is such a fitting place to celebrate the day of Europe,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter before arriving in the Ukrainian capital, which she reached by night train from Poland.

Shortly before her arrival, Ukraine’s air force said it had shot down 23 of 25 cruise missiles fired by Russia on Monday night, and an air-raid alert in Kyiv was lifted just an hour before her arrival.

As Moscow’s traditional Victory Day parade took place on Red Square, Zelenskyy and von der Leyen discussed how to achieve Ukraine’s victory in the Russia’s war of aggression and Ukraine’s prospects for EU membership. “My presence in Kyiv today, 9 May, is symbolic, but it is also a sign of an important and very practical reality: The EU is working hand in hand with Ukraine on many issues,” said von der Leyen.

What will happen to food exports?

One of the outstanding issues in recent weeks has been Ukraine’s food exports, which have been blocked and unblocked by some of Ukraine’s EU neighbors at the request of their farmers. This is why the President of Ukraine, at a press conference with the President of the European Commission, called for refraining from any decisions on trade with Ukraine without consulting it. Ursula von der Leyen confirmed that an export advisory group would be set up for this purpose.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament in Strasbourg extended the cancellation of EU import duties on Ukrainian products for another year, starting on 6 June. However, the export dispute has not been fully resolved and “exceptional temporary measures” for Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds remain in place in five EU countries – Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Agricultural exports were also the focus of von der Leyen’s meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

The situation with the supply of ammunition to Ukraine looks better: The EU is ready to provide Ukraine with one million artillery shells, Zelenskyy confirmed. After several weeks of debate, the Council of the European Union finally approved the allocation of one billion euros for this purpose on 5 May.

What will the eleventh package of sanctions contain?

As for the more global issues on the agenda, Kyiv believes that now is the time to start negotiations on Ukraine’s full membership of the EU. “Our values are security, our prosperity is peace on the continent. All of this can only be 100 per cent realized for Europe with Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. The European Commission is expected to present its assessment of Ukraine’s progress towards European integration by autumn at the latest.

Von der Leyen, for her part, made it clear that everything takes time, but praised Ukraine for its tangible progress in fulfilling its tasks on the way to EU accession negotiations, especially against the backdrop of military operations. “It is very impressive to see that despite the war, Ukraine is working very intensively and tirelessly on these steps. Much has been achieved, but the work must continue,” she said. According to Brussels, accession talks could take six to ten years once officially opened, while Kyiv is much more optimistic, notes AFP.

The European Commission President also touched upon the issue of EU sanctions against Russia. The eleventh package, she said, will focus on combating the circumvention of the ten previous packages, and the European Commission does not rule out restrictive measures against third countries used for such circumvention. Although these countries have not been publicly named, it is known that since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Gulf countries, especially the UAE, have become a new “oasis” for Russian capital seeking to circumvent Western sanctions. The same is true for Turkey, China, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Ukraine would like the 11th package to include restrictive measures against Russia’s nuclear industry. In this case, the strength of the sanctions would be proportional to the threat posed by Russia, Volodymyr Zelenskyy explained. Last week, experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the situation at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) was becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous. “I think these fears are well-founded. Now we will see how the Russians will try to hold the NPP and use it as a hostage to prevent a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the area,” Marina Miron, an expert in defense studies at King’s College London, told DW.

At the same time, during a press conference in Kyiv, von der Leyen made it clear that the Russian nuclear industry is unlikely to be targeted in the next round of sanctions, given the high technological dependence of some EU countries in Eastern Europe on the Russian monopoly Rosatom.

Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to Kyiv this week was devoid of sensational statements or promises, but that was not the main purpose of the European Commission President’s visit to Kyiv. The main thing here is symbolism, said MEP Angelika Niebler on the German TV channel Phoenix. “On a day when Putin is putting on his propaganda show, the strongest signal we Europeans can send is that our European Commission President is in Kyiv today,” said the representative of the conservative European People’s Party.



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