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Ukraine leader urges EU to stay united against Russia

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the US for its help during a visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on January 19 amid fears of Russian aggression towards its neighbour. AFP

Ukraine leader urges EU to stay united against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on January 24 urged the EU to stay united in the face of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, his office said.

The US, Britain and Baltic states have answered calls from Ukraine to bolster its defence capabilities by agreeing to send weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles as tens of thousands of Russian troops gather on the Ukrainian border.

But key EU member Germany has repeatedly rejected Kyiv’s request to send arms.

On January 24, Zelensky told European Council President Charles Michel that it was “important to preserve the unity of all EU member states in protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

Germany’s stance has angered many in the post-Soviet country including Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion who is now mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

Klitschko said a decision not to help Ukraine looked to be “a friend’s betrayal”.

“Our state needs weapons to protect itself and not attack anyone!” he said on Facebook. “So a question arises – whose side is the German government on today?”

Germany is traditionally reluctant to get involved in military conflict, traumatised by its past as an instigator of two World Wars.

On January 24, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of preparing an offensive in the east of the country where Kyiv troops have been fighting pro-Moscow separatists since 2014. The risk of such an operation “is very high, higher than before,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Zelensky’s office said Ukraine would not “succumb to provocations”.

The US, Britain and Australia ordered diplomats’ families to leave Kyiv, while France told its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Ukraine.

Both Kyiv and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said any withdrawal of diplomatic personnel appeared premature, in an apparent attempt to calm tensions.

“Thank you, Mr President of the European Council, and the leaders of the EU countries whose diplomats remain in our country and support us in our work,” Zelensky told Michel, his office reported.

After meeting his top brass later on January 24, Zelensky said “the situation is under control” in the country’s separatist east and “there is no reason to panic”.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, told reporters that he saw “no grounds for claiming today about a full-scale attack on our country” by Russia.

He also reiterated that Kyiv “is not going to attack anyone”, referring to the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the east.

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