Von der Leyen’s comments came shortly after Brussels announced it would provide some €500 million in lethal weapons and other aid to the Ukrainian military, and would ban Russian-backed media in the EU as well as prohibit Russian aircraft from EU airspace.
“There is strong solidarity with Ukraine. They share our values, they defend our principles. They want to have a peaceful democracy and Russia is attacking that,” von der Leyen told the France-based network.
“We have a process with Ukraine that is, for example, integrating the Ukrainian market into the single market. We have very close cooperation on the energy grid, for example.”
“So many topics where we work very closely together and indeed, over time, they belong to us. They are one of us and we want them in,” von der Leyen said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also said on Twitter late Sunday night that he had had a phone call with von der Leyen where the two spoke about “concrete decisions on strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities, macro-financial assistance and Ukraine’s membership in the EU.”
Kyiv-based news agency Interfax-Ukraine reported on Saturday that Zelensky pressed the EU, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), for a firm timeline regarding the prospect of Ukraine’s membership.
“Eight years ago, Ukrainians made their choice, many gave their lives for it. Is it really possible that eight years after that, Ukraine should constantly call for recognition of the European prospect?” Zelensky said.
“Since 2014, the Russian Federation has been convincing that we have chosen the wrong path, and that no one is waiting for us in Europe. Shouldn’t Europe constantly say and justify with actions that this is not true? Is it not the EU that should say today: our citizens have a positive attitude towards Ukraine’s entry into the union? Why do we avoid this question? Doesn’t Ukraine deserve direct, honest answers?” Zelensky said.
“This also applies to NATO. We are told the door is open. But for now, no outsiders are allowed in,” the Ukrainian president added.
EU chief von der Leyen’s comments will no doubt anger Russian President Vladimir Putin, who believes Russia has historical claims over the Eastern European country of Ukraine and has used this, in part, as a reason to invade the former Soviet nation.
While some U.S. officials have said that Russia’s invasion does not appear to have gone as planned for the Kremlin, and its military advance has been slower than expected, the situation remains unclear.
Ukrainian officials have in recent days called on Kyiv residents to make Molotov cocktails and distributed thousands of rifles to locals to protect the country against the Moscow-led invasion.
Zelensky said on Facebook on Sunday that he would start peace talks with Russia, after previously denying Moscow’s proposals for peace talks after they invaded Ukraine.
Zelensky said he had held a phone call with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Putin, and agreed to send a delegation to the Ukraine–Belarus border “without preconditions.”
“We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian–Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River,” Zelensky said.
But con der Leyen on Sunday, referring to such peace talks, said trust in Putin is “completely broken and eroded.”
“Of course, it is important that the Ukrainian side agrees to the peace talks and that conditions are fine for the Ukrainian side. In general, it is always better to have peace talks than to have a fight. But the trust in President Putin is completely broken and eroded,” von der Leyen said.