- Ukrainian President Zelensky joins other European leaders in Spain
- Zelensky says Ukrainian air defenses are focused on food exports
- Europe is keen to reassure Kiev of support amid uncertainty in the United States
- Crises in the Western Balkans and the Caucasus are also on Granada’s agenda
GRANADA, Spain, Oct 5 (Reuters) – European leaders will reaffirm their long-term support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during talks on Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden expressed concerns that infighting among Republicans in Congress could hurt U.S. aid to Kiev.
Zelensky arrived in the Spanish city of Granada to attend the summit of the European Political Community, a forum established last year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine to strengthen cooperation between more than 40 countries from Norway to Albania.
Upon his arrival, Zelensky said, “The main challenge is to save unity in Europe. Not only in the European Union, but in all of Europe,” warning of Russian “disinformation attacks.”
Earlier, he said on social media that his main priority is to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses.
He added, “We will pay special attention to the Black Sea region, as well as our joint efforts to enhance global food security and freedom of navigation.”
In July, Russia withdrew from an agreement that allowed Ukraine, a major global grain exporter, to safely ship food products across the Black Sea.
Russia has so far rejected UN initiatives to revive the agreement, while Ukraine continues some exports through what it calls a temporary “humanitarian corridor” for cargo ships.
Ukraine’s efforts to export grain overland through European Union countries have caused a rift with Poland and some other eastern members of the bloc who are keen to protect their farmers. Kiev and Brussels are also discussing expanding alternative sea routes.
The Granada gathering gives leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine after political turmoil in both the United States and Europe raised questions about continued support.
In the United States, disagreement among the Republican majority in the House of Representatives complicated budget negotiations and prompted Democratic Biden to shift from confidence in reaching an agreement on aid to Ukraine to openly expressing his concern.
“It concerns me,” Biden said on Wednesday, but added that a majority of US lawmakers continue to support funding for Ukraine.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said upon her arrival in Granada that she was “very confident” that the United States would continue to support Ukraine.
In Europe, too, support for Kiev has seen setbacks recently.
In Slovakia, the party of former Prime Minister Robert Fico came first in the parliamentary elections thanks to his pledges to stop military aid to Ukraine, while Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw would no longer arm Ukraine.
Some Ukrainian, European Union and NATO officials downplayed these developments, saying that support for Kiev would ultimately remain steadfast because it was in the West’s interest.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday that he was “very confident” that US support for Ukraine would continue.
The summit will also discuss efforts by Ukraine and others to join the European Union as well as how to deal with the growing numbers of refugees and migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa, both of which are considered existential challenges to the Union.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the host of the gathering, said, “The transition from a 27-member European Union to a 35-member European Union will create many challenges internally. We will open in Granada this great debate that will lead us to a deep reform of the European Union.” .
Talks on the sidelines of Thursday’s meeting will focus on the crises between Azerbaijan and Armenia and between Serbia and Kosovo, which erupted in recent weeks amid faltering European Union mediation efforts.
Hopes for the first meeting between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia since Baku’s military operation last month to regain control of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave were dashed when Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev decided not to attend.
Many European Union leaders have condemned the Azerbaijani operation, which led to the mass exodus of more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians.
Others, aware that Baku increased gas supplies to the EU during last year’s energy crisis, stressed the need to focus on helping Armenia deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis, as well as providing political and economic support.
(Additional reporting by Belén Carreno in Granada, Andreas Reinke in Berlin and Anna Proshnika – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Gareth Jones
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