France’s defense minister travels to Ukraine to bolster support

Kyiv – France’s defense minister arrived in Kyiv on Wednesday to discuss further military support for Ukraine, stressing that the French government’s support was relentless as efforts were made to eventually reach a negotiated end to the Russian invasion.

French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu traveled to Ukraine’s capital after a trip to Poland, where he announced on Tuesday a deal to sell two French-made military satellites to Poland.

In Kyiv, Lecornu laid a wreath at a Heroes’ Monument to pay homage to Ukrainians who died defending their country against Russian invasion. He was scheduled to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov and army officials.

While France has been less vocal about its military support for Ukraine than the United States and Britain, the country has been clever a steady supply of arms to Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24.

France also hosted two aid conferences for Ukraine this month. But many in Ukraine are critical of the French government’s response to the war President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to maintain contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to strive for a negotiated solution.

“Our support for Ukraine has been constant,” Lecornu tweeted ahead of his trip.

It was not immediately clear what specific deals Lecornus’ talks in Kyiv could lead to. He arrived in Ukraine a week after Zelenskyy visited the US, Ukraine’s key ally, and fighting has been mostly concentrated in the east of the country, but neither Moscow nor Kyiv have reported major gains in recent weeks.

Russian forces have ramped up their offensive to capture all of eastern Ukraine, concentrating on Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk province. Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive against Kreminna, a city in neighboring Luhansk province, in hopes of retaking the area and possibly dividing Russian forces to the east.

France has supplied Ukraine with a significant part of its arsenal of Caesar guns, as well as anti-tank missiles, Crotale air defense missile batteries and rocket launchers. It also trains around 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers on French soil. Macron pledged last week to deploy a new gun syringe in early 2023.

Western military aid to Ukraine has angered Moscow. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington and NATO of fomenting the war to weaken Russia and warned the conflict could spiral out of control.

Also on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree banning oil exports to countries that support a price cap of $60 a barrel, which the European Union and Group of Seven countries have declared to bolster Moscow’s wartime revenues to reduce. The ban comes into effect in February and is expected to last until July.

The price cap is higher than what Russian oil has been selling for in recent weeks, leaving the potential impact of Putin’s ban uncertain.

Russia invaded Ukraine 10 months ago, claiming to be a NATO-orchestrated threat to its security. The war has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions so far, with no end in sight.

Russian attacks on power plants and other infrastructure have left millions of Ukrainians without heat and electricity for hours or days.

The latest Russian shelling has injured at least eight civilians, including three in Bakhmut, Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

In the southern Kherson region, Russian shelling hit a maternity hospital shortly after two women gave birth there, although Ukrainian officials said no one was hurt. Regional governor Yaroslav Yanyshevich said the shelling also damaged houses, a kindergarten and a bakery.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily assessment on Tuesday that Russia is likely to have strengthened its front line near Kreminna as its forces face continued pressure from the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Russia will likely prioritize keeping the line in the logistically important area, the ministry said.

Ukraine’s foreign minister told The Associated Press this week that his government would like to see a peace conference by the end of February. Ukraine has in the past stated that it would not negotiate with Russia before fully withdrawing its troops, while Moscow insists on its military achievements and the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula cannot be ignored.


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Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. France’s defense minister travels to Ukraine to bolster support

Sarah Y. Kim

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