BRUSSELS — The European Union faced questions Thursday about its commitment to Ukraine in times of need after the president of the EU’s executive commission’s president turned down an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the country’s independence.
Zelenskyy invited Europe Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to travel to Ukraine in August. Her Cabinet chief, Bjoern Seibert, wrote to decline under his own signature, citing von der Leyen’s heavy schedule at that time. The letter of reply was leaked to journalists.
European Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer said the letter had not yet been sent to Ukrainian authorities. He said it should have been signed by von der Leyen but was written while she was abroad as part of a trip to Turkey and Jordan.
“Now, of course, the president herself will sign the reply that she would like to address to the Ukrainian president,” Mamer said.
Ukraine’s foreign minister said Thursday that the country is looking for stronger backing from the West as Russian troops are amassing near its eastern border and fighting with Russia-backed separatists is intensifying.
After talks with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked the Baltic nations to reach out to other European Union and NATO members about offering “practical assistance” to Kyiv.
The 27-nation EU has been staunchly on the side of Ukraine during the 7-year conflict in eastern Ukraine and imposed sanctions against Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula. French President Emmanuel Macron is to meet with Zelenskyy in Paris on Friday to discuss the current situation.
EU Commission spokesman Mamer did not give a specific reason why von der Leyen cannot attend the August celebration, but he reiterated the EU’s support for Ukraine.
“The Commission and the European Union are side by side with Ukraine,” Mamer said.
Von der Leyen hopes to organize a meeting with Zelenskyy ahead of the Ukrainian independence commemorations and has spoken with him three times since she took office in Brussels in December 2019.
Von der Leyen was upset by a protocol misstep during her recent trip to Turkey. She was sidelined to a couch when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel took chairs close to each other for talks between the trio.