Emmanuel Macron has copped flak in recent days from Ukrainian officials after urging them not to ‘humiliate’ Russia, suggesting they should negotiate with Vladimir Putin to build an ‘off-ramp’ from a war he started.
So the French President may not have been surprised when he was shown the cold, or rather hard, shoulder by Zelensky on a visit to Kyiv today.
Macron was joined in the Ukrainian capital by his German, Italian and Romanian counterparts this morning, before being taken to suburbian Irpin to see firsthand the devastation wrought by Putin’s troops and evidence of their war crimes.
Ever the statesman, Macron denounced their ‘barbarism’ of the attacks and praised the courage of Irpin’s residents and others in the region who helped thwart Russia’s attempt to overrun the capital.
But his attempt to pull Ukraine’s President into a PR-friendly embrace at a joint press conference following the tour was not warmly received.
Zelensky looked as though he’d rather be fighting in the trenches of Severodonetsk when the smarmy French leader, dressed impeccably in his trademark navy blue suit, wrapped a crisply-laundered sleeve around his torso.
And image of the pair shaking hands earlier in the event looked just as one-sided.
Macron flashed a smile at the press as he clasped Zelensky’s hand and posed for their lenses, but Ukraine’s Churchillian leader simply scowled at the floor, evidently displeased with his visitor’s posturing.
Zelensky has in recent weeks openly accused Macron of making excuses for Putin, with whom the French leader has claimed to have a strong relationship, and has criticised his government for not providing enough weapons and support to help Ukraine’s war effort.
His behaviour around Macron is a stark contrast to the warmth and enthusiasm with which he has greeted officials from the US and UK – particularly Boris Johnson – who have delivered on their promises to provide a variety of weapons and training to Ukraine’s armed forces in the face of Russian aggression.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks awkward as he is embraced by French President Emmanuel Macron after giving a press conference in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022
Zelensky looked as though he’d rather be fighting in the trenches of Severodonetsk when the French leader’s crisply-suited arm wrapped around his torso
Macron, dressed impeccably in his trademark dark suit, flashed a smile as he posed for cameras and clasped Zelensky’s hand. But the Ukraine’s Churchillian leader simply scowled at the floor, evidently displeased with the posturing
After arriving in Kyiv to the sound of air raid sirens, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania headed to Irpin, which was seized and briefly held by Russian troops along with other areas near the capital.
Mass graves have been unearthed in the area with the evidence of war crimes still clearly visible.
Their visit carries heavy symbolic weight given that the three Western European powers have faced criticism for not providing Ukraine with the scale of weaponry that Zelensky has been asking for.
They have also been criticised for not visiting Kyiv sooner. In past weeks and months a number of other European leaders had already made the long trip overland to show solidarity with a nation under attack, even in times when the fighting raged closer to the capital than it does now.
The French president’s office said that Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Premier Mario Draghi, representing the three largest economies in the EU, travelled to Kyiv together on a special overnight train provided by the Ukrainian authorities.
‘France has been alongside Ukraine since day one. We stand with the Ukrainians without ambiguity. Ukraine must resist and win,’ Macron told journalists.
Surrounded by the wreckage left by Ukraine’s successful but hard-fought defence of its capital in the early stages of the 113-day-old conflict, Draghi said: ‘We will rebuild everything.
‘They destroyed kindergartens, they destroyed playgrounds. Everything will be rebuilt,’ he promised.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis attend a joint news conference
(From L) French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz look on at the horrors of war in Irpin, a suburban town near Kyiv
The Ukrainian town of Irpin near Kyiv became a battlefield site when the Russian army attacked the Kyiv region in an attempt to reach Ukraine’s capital. Irpin was heavily shelled, causing death and destruction
A pile burned cars destroyed during Russian attacks in Irpin, Ukraine, 16 June 2022
President Klaus Iohannis of Romania, which borders Ukraine and has been a key destination for Ukrainian refugees, arrived on a separate train, tweeting on arrival: ‘This illegal Russian aggression must stop!’
‘It’s a message of European unity for the Ukrainian people, support now and in the future, because the weeks to come will be very difficult,’ Macron later added.
But Ukrainian officials are skeptical that the European leaders have anything to offer other than words.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said the visit will not bring anything if the leaders ask Ukraine to conclude a peace treaty with Russia that involves giving up territory.
He said that is something Ukrainians would never accept.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrive for a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine June 16, 2022
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi brought a message of solidarity to the Kyiv suburb of Irpin
Left to right: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appear at a press conference in Kyiv after seeing war-torn Irpin
Ukrainian Minister for Communities and Territories Development Oleksy Chernyshov shows a wartime map to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (partially obscured) during their visit
Zelensky’s behaviour around Macron is a stark contrast to the warmth and enthusiasm with which he has greeted officials from the US and UK – particularly Boris Johnson (pictured dated Sat, April 9)
The Ukrainian leader has strongly praised Johnson for the UK’s support of Ukraine amid the war
‘I am sure that our president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is not going to make concessions and trade our territories. If someone wants to stop Russia by giving them the territories, Germany has Bavaria, Italy has Tuscany, the French can concede Provence, for instance,’ he said.
‘Listen, this is Russia. These are wild people. Today it will be one territory, tomorrow another one, the day after tomorrow another. And another thing: many heroes of Ukraine died protecting the country as a whole. Nobody will forgive us if people die but we make concessions to the aggressor.’
The visit comes as EU leaders prepare to make a decision June 23-24 on Ukraine’s request to become a candidate for EU membership, and ahead of an important NATO summit June 29-30 in Madrid.
It also comes as NATO defence ministers are meeting in Brussels to weigh more military aid for Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the US and Germany announced more aid, as America and its allies provide longer-range weapons they say can make a difference in a fight where Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned by their Russian invaders.