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In France, Ukraine's Zelensky presses for fighter jets

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
French President Emmanuel Macron (C) welcomes Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 8, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has traveled to France, his second foreign destination in a single day after the United Kingdom, where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, pressing them for more weaponry, fighter jets in particular, amid the ongoing war with Russia.

After visiting Britain and meeting with UK officials earlier on Wednesday, Zelensky arrived in France — the third country he has visited since the onset of the war — on Wednesday evening and was greeted by Macron and Scholz, who pledged support for Ukraine.

At a joint press conference with French and German leaders, Zelensky stressed that both France and Germany had enough potential to be "game-changers" in Ukraine's war with Russia by supplying Kiev with "battle tanks, modern fighter planes and long-range missiles."

"An effective continental alliance in Europe is needed by all Europeans. Putting an end to Russian aggression as soon as possible is the most rational thing to do," the Ukrainian president said.

"The sooner Ukraine receives long-range weapons, the sooner our pilots receive modern aircraft, the stronger our tank coalition is, the sooner Russian aggression will end and we will return a steadfast peace to Europe," Zelensky added, warning, "There is very little time."

Zelensky has been urging the West to provide more advanced weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, claiming that Russia is gearing up for a spring offensive.

Macron, for his part, said Kiev could count on support from Paris, its European partners and its allies "to win the war," and that France was "determined to help Ukraine to victory and the re-establishment of its legitimate rights."

"Russia cannot and must not prevail," he said.

Scholz, whose country pledged to send Ukraine 14 of its state-of-the-art Leopard 2 tanks and nearly 180 of its Leopard 1 tanks, also stressed that "the position is unchanged: Russia must not win this war."

"We stand closely by your side and support Ukraine in its heroic defensive struggle — humanitarian, financially, and with weapons, and we will continue to do so as long as it takes. Because Ukraine belongs to the European family," he assured Zelensky.

It was unclear whether the French and German governments would provide Ukraine with fighter jets, which Kiev desperately seeks. Both Macron and Scholz have at times faced criticism for being too slow to support Ukraine.

Zelensky has previously expressed frustration with Macron, who continued to hold phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the onset of the war. However, the Ukrainian president said in a interview with the Le Figaro daily published ahead of the talks that he believed Macron "has changed."

"And that he changed for real this time. After all, he (Macron) opened the door to tank deliveries," he added.

On Thursday, Zelensky was expected to address the European Parliament and later attend a summit of EU leaders in Brussels to make more requests for fighter jets.

Russia launched what it calls "a special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, over the perceived threat of the ex-Soviet republic joining NATO. Since then, the United States and Ukraine's other allies have sent Kiev tens of billions of dollars' worth of weapons, including rocket systems, drones, armored vehicles, tanks, and communication systems.

Western countries have also imposed a slew of economic sanctions on Moscow. The Kremlin has said the sanctions and the Western military assistance will only prolong the war.  

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