BRUSSELS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's tour of European capitals brought him to Brussels on Thursday to lobby EU leaders for jets and long-range weapons to bolster Kyiv's defences against the Russian invasion.
After almost a year of the most brutal combat on European soil in decades, Kiev's unlikely war leader, a former television actor, has made only 2 trips abroad to rally Kiev's Western allies.
On Wednesday, he met UK leaders in London and inspected Ukrainian troops training on western war gear, then flew on to Paris to dine with President Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Macron's plane then brought him to Brussels, where was to make a much-anticipated address to the European Parliament, then attend the regular summit of the 27 European Union heads of state and government.
Arriving at the talks, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said: "It's very important that we speed up military aid to Ukraine. I think all of us looked in the warehouses at what we have. But we should do more."
The NATO and EU powers of Europe have been, along with the United States, the main backers of Ukraine's beleaguered defenders since President Vladimir Putin's Russia unleashed a full-scale invasion.
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was proud to show Zelensky the Challenger tanks London is dispatching to Ukraine alongside German-built Leopards to reinforce Kiev's forces.
The EU leaders will also tout the 67 billion euros they have spent on military and financial aid to Kyiv, including funds spent on hosting four million Ukrainian refugees.
But Zelensky has more to ask. Ukraine's army is facing a renewed Russian offensive and its commanders want modern western fighter jets to free its skies from Moscow's raiders.
"The sooner Ukraine gets long-range heavy weaponry, the sooner our pilots get planes, the sooner this Russian aggression will end and we can return to peace in Europe," Zelensky said in Paris.
"There is very little time," he warned.
Macron and Scholz pledged that Europe would back Ukraine until its eventual victory.
Arriving at the Brussels summit, Scholz told reporters: "We are gathered here today to give a sign of solidarity and unity.
"We can send out this signal once again and show that we will continue our support for Ukraine in defending its independence and integrity for as long as necessary."
'WINGS FOR FREEDOM'
As the one-year anniversary of Russia's Feb. 24 invasion looms, Zelensky is pushing ever harder for friendly nations to send tanks, jets and missiles.
Britain has promised to train Ukrainian pilots and has said it will consider the proposal for combat aircraft in the "long term".
The United States and other NATO allies are nevertheless wary of provoking Russian into an uncontrolled escalation that could draw in western forces.
On Wednesday, Zelensky -- dressed in his usual olive green military-style garb -- received waves of applause as he made a historic address to both the lower and upper houses of the British parliament.
"I appeal to you and the world... for combat aircrafts for Ukraine. Wings for freedom," he said.
Sunak's office said he had tasked the defense secretary with "investigating what jets we might be able to give but, to be clear, this is a long-term solution rather than a short-term capability."
Speaking alongside Zelensky in front of a British tank, Sunak said that "nothing is off the table" for Ukraine, including combat aircraft.
"Of course they are part of the conversation," he said, but held back from giving a concrete commitment to provide fighter planes.
Zelensky said jets had been discussed and reiterated his call for longer-range missiles.
Russia subsequently said there would be a "response" from Moscow should Britain supply aircraft to Ukraine.
Moscow says Russian forces were advancing towards Bakhmut and Vugledar -- 2 key centers of fighting in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, now the flashpoint of the war.
Updated maps of Russia have gone on sale in Moscow bookstores that include 4 annexed Ukrainian regions: Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Lugansk and Donetsk. Putin regularly refers to them as "our historical lands".
© Agence France-Presse