The Ukrainian politician Zelenskyj surprisingly travels to Paris for talks with French President Macron

PARIS (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to Paris Sunday night for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, extending his multi-stop tour of Europe that earned him new pledges of military support as his country prepares for a Occupying troops are preparing a counter-offensive against Russia.

In a tweet marking his arrival, Zelenskyy said: “With each visit, Ukraine’s defense and attack capabilities are expanding. Relations with Europe are strengthening and the pressure on Russia is increasing.”

He said he and Macron would “discuss the key points of the bilateral relationship.” The French leader’s office said it would discuss Ukraine’s military and humanitarian needs and “longer-term prospects for a return to peace in Europe,” and that Macron expressed “the unwavering support of France and Europe” to Ukraine in its fight against the crisis will reaffirm Russian invasion.

France has supplied Ukraine with a range of weapons, including air defense systems, light tanks, howitzers and other weapons, as well as equipment and fuel. Macron and Zelenskyy did not speak to waiting reporters as they greeted each other at the French presidential palace.

France sent a plane to pick up Zelenskyy in Germany, where he met and discussed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday the planned counter-offensive of his country. Zelenskyy said his goal was the liberation of Russian-held territories within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, not an attack on Russian territory.

The Washington Post cited previously unreleased documents from a plethora of US intelligence leaks that suggest Zelenskyy has been contemplating seizing territory in Russia that could potentially serve as a bargaining chip for peace talks to end the war Moscow started in February 2022 at odds with Western governments, which have insisted that the weapons they provide cannot be used to attack targets in Russia.

Asked about the report, Zelenskyy said: “We are not attacking Russian territory, we are liberating our own legitimate territory.”

“We have neither the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” he said, according to an official interpreter. “And we don’t have any weapons left to do it with either.”

“We are preparing a counterattack on the illegally occupied territories on the basis of our constitutionally established legitimate borders, which are internationally recognized,” Zelenskyy said.

The areas still occupied by Russia include the Crimean peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine with a predominantly Russian-speaking population.

Ukraine’s president is visiting allies in search of more weapons to help his country repel Russian invasion and funds to rebuild what was destroyed in more than a year of devastating conflict.

A Luftwaffe jet flew Zelenskyy from Rome, where he was, to the German capital met with Pope Francis and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Saturday.

It was his first visit to Berlin since the beginning of the war and it came a day after the German government’s announcement a new package of military aid to Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.

Thanking Scholz for Germany’s political, financial and military support, Zelenskyy said the country was now second only to the US in providing aid to Ukraine – and joked that he was working to make the country the largest donor close.

“German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles save Ukrainian lives and bring us closer to victory. Germany is a reliable ally! Together we bring peace closer!” he wrote on Twitter after the meeting.

Scholz said Berlin has given Kiev around 17 billion euros in bilateral aid so far and can count on more in the future.

“We will support you for as long as necessary,” he said, adding that it was up to Russia to end the war by withdrawing its troops.

After initially being reluctant to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons, Germany has grown to become one of Ukraine’s largest suppliers of weapons, including Leopard 1 and 2 main battle tanks and the advanced IRIS-T SLM air defense system. Modern Western hardware is believed to be crucial to the success of Ukraine’s planned counter-offensive against Russian troops.

Zelenskyy said one reason for his recent visit to allied capitals was to form a “fighter jet coalition” that would provide Ukraine with the fighter jets it needs to counter Russian air dominance.

Germany has said in the past it does not have the F-16 fighter jets that Ukraine needs, and Scholz responded to questions about possible aircraft deliveries by citing the anti-aircraft system it had supplied to Kiev.

“That’s what we’re concentrating on as Germany now,” he said.

In Ukraine, officials on Sunday denied the country had anything to do with the downing of two Russian helicopters near the border the day before.

In a joint statement after their meeting, Scholz and Zelenskyi said they support efforts to bring those responsible for the atrocities in Ukraine to justice, citing the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They also pledged to ensure sanctions against Russia are not circumvented and to explore ways to use frozen Russian assets to pay for damages caused in Ukraine.

Germany said it supports Kiev’s efforts to join the European Union and backs a pledge by NATO members in 2008 to pave the way for Ukraine’s eventual entry into the military alliance.

Zelenskyi met for the first time with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German head of state who was snubbed by Kiev last year, apparently over his previous close ties with Russia, leading to a cooling in diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany. Since then, both Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz have visited Ukraine.

After meeting Scholz and other senior officials at the Chancellery, the two leaders flew to the western city of Aachen on behalf of Zelensky to accept the prestigious International Charlemagne Prize that was presented to him and the people of Ukraine.

In her congratulatory speech, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen compared the war in Ukraine to the fall of the Iron Curtain more than 30 years ago.

“Every generation has its moment when it needs to stand up and defend democracy and what it believes in,” she said. “For us, this moment has come.”

Zelenskyy accused Moscow of trying to turn back the wheel of European history with its attack on Ukraine.

“Modern Russia was at war not only against us as a free and sovereign state, not only against a united Europe as a global symbol of peace and prosperity,” he said in his acceptance speech. “This is Russia’s war for the past.”

Zelenskyy’s chief adviser Andriy Yermak said Sunday that five civilians were killed in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region when an unexploded Russian shell exploded.

According to the Ukrainian military, Russia launched a “massive” attack on Ukraine using Iranian Shahed explosive drones overnight, injuring more than 30 people.

Eighteen of the 23 drones were shot down, but those that got through and debris from the intercepted drones damaged 50 apartment buildings, private homes and other buildings, the military said, without giving further details.

Russia also fired rockets at the western city of Ternopil and the southern city of Mykolaiv, injuring an unspecified number of civilians.

Shelling by Russian forces killed two people – a 59-year-old woman and a 65-year-old man – in the Chuhuiv district of northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv province on Sunday, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov reported on Telegram.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had killed two of its colonels in the Bakhmut area.

Jordans reported from Berlin. David Rising in Kiev and Elise Morton in London contributed to this report.

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