KYIV, Ukraine, Feb 1, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Ukraine will hold a summit with the European Union in Kyiv this week, the government announced Tuesday, as it expressed hope the conference will bring the war-battered nation closer to EU membership almost a year after Russia launched its invasion.
Kyiv also announced it expects to receive up to 140 modern battle tanks from its Western allies, and the prospect of more advanced weapons for Ukraine came from the United States.
In his evening address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was hopeful the summit, which will take place in the Ukrainian capital on Friday, will reflect a high "level of cooperation and progress" with the 27-member bloc, which Kyiv has long sought to join.
"We are waiting for news for Ukraine," Zelensky said.
Announcing the summit earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said: "The fact that this summit will be held in Kyiv is a powerful signal to both partners and enemies."
Ukraine gained EU candidacy status in June last year, several months after Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops rolling into Ukraine.
No details were provided on who would be attending the summit on the European Union side.
- Weapons 'breakthrough' -
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that a dozen countries had promised more than one hundred tanks after Germany and Washington signed off on the deliveries last week.
"These are Leopard 2, Challenger 2, M1 Abrams," added the foreign minister without specifying a timeline for the deliveries.
The decision to supply the weapons came after weeks of diplomatic wrangling and was seen as a breakthrough in the West's backing for Ukraine in its fight to win back territory from Russian forces.
Now Zelensky is urging the West to supply fighter jets and long-range missiles.
US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he will be discussing the new requests for advanced weaponry with Zelensky.
"We're going to talk," Biden told reporters, speaking the morning after he answered with an emphatic "no" when asked at the White House whether he favoured sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
And The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a US defense company, General Atomics, has offered to sell Kyiv two Reaper MQ-9 drones for a dollar as it prepares for an expected Russian offensive.
Under the deal, Kyiv would have to spend about $10 million to ship the aircraft to Ukraine, and about $8 million each year for maintenance, the Journal said, citing a letter from General Atomics to a Ukrainian diplomat.
There was no immediate comment on the report from Washington.
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu meanwhile announced that his country would send 12 more Caesar truck-mounted howitzers to Ukraine.
Alongside other Western-supplied mobile cannons, the Caesar was credited last year with helping Ukraine strike targets deep behind Russian lines, undermining Moscow's offensive.
- 'Razing Bakhmut' -
Despite the flows of Western weapons, Russia has recently claimed gains in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine.
Its defence ministry announced it had "liberated" the village of Blagodatne north of Bakhmut.
Blagodatne lies on a highway leading towards Bakhmut, and its announced capture comes not long after Ukraine conceded it had given up the nearby salt-mining town of Soledar.
AFP journalists around 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of Bakhmut heard sporadic shelling coming from Vugledar, which both Moscow and Kyiv have said is seeing an uptick in fighting.
"It's very tense, the more time passes the worse, worse and worse it gets," said Oleksandr, a 45-year-old Ukrainian serviceman operating a mortar near Vugledar.
On Tuesday, Kyiv said a 12-year-old boy and 70-year-old man were killed during Russia's latest barrage in Bakhmut, which Moscow has been seeking to seize for months in some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
"The Russians are razing Bakhmut to the ground, killing everyone they can get their hands on," said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the region's governor.
Meanwhile Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused Ukraine of using banned anti-personnel landmines against invading Russian forces, saying almost 50 civilians, including five children, had been wounded.
Ukraine's defence ministry insisted the army upholds its treaty obligations against mines, but will not comment on the types of weapons used until the war ends.
And international tensions remained high with the US State department on Tuesday accusing Russia of not complying with New START, the last remaining arms control treaty. It urged Moscow to return to compliance by allowing inspection activities on its territory, which Moscow suspended in August, citing what it said was American obstruction of Russian checks.