Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to press Europe to step up pressure on Russia to end the war in his country’s east, as he arrived in Brussels Tuesday for his first foreign trip as leader.
The former comedian, who crushed incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the May election, met European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks and will see the head of NATO Jens Stoltenberg later in the day.
Writing on his Facebook page, Zelensky dedicated his trip to the children caught up in the conflict that still rumbles on with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine which has claimed some 13 000 lives since 2014. Zelensky renewed his call on Moscow to help end the war, which he said had exposed tens of thousands of children to violence.
“But calls are not enough. This is why my meetings with European leaders will begin with a question; how can we put pressure together on the aggressor? How can we force him to work for peace? I am sure that together we will find a solution. Perhaps not today, but we must find one, without fail,” Zelensky wrote.
Arriving at commission headquarters, Zelensky shook hands warmly with Juncker.
Zelensky’s election came as a rebuke to the Ukrainian establishment fuelled by popular anger over the war and social injustice, and the 41-year-old has promised to press ahead with the former Soviet state’s pro-Western course.
Both the EU and NATO back Ukraine in its tensions with Moscow, but also say Kiev has to do more to push through much-needed political and economic reforms. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of fuelling the conflict and sending weapons to the insurgents, charges which Moscow denies despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.