France promises Zelensky weapons after EU honours Ukraine fight 'for Europe'
France on Monday promised Ukraine dozens more light tanks and armoured vehicles after President Emmanuel Macron met Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris as Kyiv readies for a widely expected counter-offensive.
Fresh off stops in Rome and then Germany, Zelensky dined with Macron at the Elysee Palace on Sunday night, where the pair discussed boosting military aid.
"In the coming weeks, France will train and equip several battalions with tens of armored vehicles and light tanks including AMX-10RC," they said in a joint statement afterwards.
They also called for fresh sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine "to weaken Russia's ability to continue its illegal war of aggression."
After months of stalemate, Ukraine has been preparing to retake ground captured by Russia and has been stockpiling Western-supplied munitions and shoring up support on a diplomatic tour.
Zelensky's arrival in Paris came hours after European Union leaders in Germany presented him with a prize for the Ukrainian people for fighting for the bloc's freedom and values.
"Ukraine incarnates everything the European idea is living for: the courage of convictions, the fight for values and freedom, the commitment to peace and unity," said EU chief Ursula von der Leyen at the Charlemagne award ceremony in Aachen.
For German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Russia's war on its neighbour had "cemented one clear realisation: Ukraine is part of our European family".
Upon arriving at the Villacoublay airbase southwest of Paris on Sunday, Zelensky tweeted: "Ties with Europe are getting stronger, and the pressure on Russia is growing."
"Paris. With each visit, Ukraine's defense and offensive capabilities are expanding."
- Germany 'a true friend' -
Zelensky was awarded the Charlemagne Prize during his first trip to Germany since Russia's invasion, a day after meeting Italian leaders and Pope Francis in Rome.
The weekend diplomatic tour comes ahead of an EU summit in Reykjavik and a gathering of G7 leaders in Japan.
Zelensky won extended standing ovations at the Aachen ceremony, during which EU leaders also vowed to support Ukraine on its road to joining the bloc.
Calling Germany a "true friend and reliable ally" to Ukraine as it battles to repel Russian invaders, Zelensky held separate talks with Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Berlin is preparing a new military package for Kyiv worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), its biggest yet for Ukraine and hailed by Zelensky as a "powerful support".
"Now is the time for us to determine the end of this war this year. This year, we can make the aggressor's defeat irreversible," said the Ukrainian leader.
Germany, once accused of reticence in supplying military gear to Ukraine, has become the second-biggest contributor of tanks, rockets and anti-missile systems to the country, after the United States.
- 'As long as necessary' -
Early in the conflict, Kyiv had accused Germany of being too accommodating to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But on the eve of Zelensky's visit, Berlin said it would send Ukraine more firing units and launchers for the Iris-T anti-missile system, 30 additional Leopard 1 tanks, more than 100 armoured combat vehicles and over 200 surveillance drones.
Scholz on Sunday reiterated Berlin's backing. "We will support you for as long as it is necessary," he told Zelensky.
Zelensky said he would urge Scholz to support Ukraine's bid for fighter jet deliveries, though he did not specify if he was seeking aircraft directly from Germany.
Ukrainian forces have been training troops and readying weapons that analysts say will be key to reclaiming territory in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south.
- 'Inaction' -
On the front line, Kyiv said Ukrainian forces had captured more than 10 Russian positions on the outskirts of the flashpoint town of Bakhmut.
Russia said two of its military commanders had been killed in combat near the town, where fighting has been raging for days.
The head of Russia's private Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin again accused the Russian army of inaction around Bakhmut.
In a post published by his press service, Prigozhin slammed the "airborne forces" for not backing his men as the defence ministry had claimed.
"I didn't see them... I don't know where they are and who they are helping," said Prigozhin.
Elsewhere, Moscow said Russian forces had struck Western arm depots and Ukrainian troops in the western city of Ternopil and the eastern town of Petropavlivka.