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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article6 February 2024Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the need for unwavering EU support for Ukraine, after two years of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine

President von der Leyen

"Check against delivery"

President Metsola,

Honourable Members,

In any fight, it is always the side fighting for something that has a higher power on its side. It is the one who believes in what they are fighting for that will sacrifice and do what it takes to prevail. And, conversely, it is the side who fights against something that will always be scared. Scared to lose, scared to think of the future, scared to speak out. Two years ago, Putin and Russia started a war against something, a war against Ukraine and its territory but also against a people and a nation with an iron will and hope for a better future. Against their European aspirations. Against the values they share with us. Quite simply, against both modern reality and the strong tides of European history. And in doing so, Putin started a fight against all of us – and against freedom, self-determination and democracy at large. Against everything that we have stood for more than 70 years. Ukraine has proven the power of a nation and a people fighting for something. For themselves first and foremost. But also for us and for everything that we believe in. Our freedoms, our democracy, our hard-fought rights and aspirations. Some were surprised by Ukraine's heroic action. But no one should have been surprised that when faced with oppression, subjugation and tyranny, they chose resistance. And that is why, Honourable Members, I remain just as convinced of one simple fact today than I was two years ago standing in front of you. And that is that Ukraine will prevail and that Europe will stand with you every step of the way, through thick and thin.

Honourable Members,

We have spoken in great detail over the last two years on the EU's historic and massive support for Ukraine – be it military, financial or human. Be it on sanctions, security or the Single Market. Be it on the historic path of Ukraine to our Union that this House has been such a strong supporter of. But today, on this poignant anniversary ceremony, it is a time to look deeper at how we have got here and where we must go. The starting point is that Ukraine – and Europe – have shown that we are willing to fight and pay the ultimate price for the things that we believe in. And this was one of Putin's greatest miscalculations in that month of February – as he amassed troops on the border and planned a quick lightning strike on Kyiv. Mr Putin, you made this mistake because you cannot understand what drives a human spirit when it is free to think, dream, create and prosper. Nor can you understand – because you cannot bear to accept that the human desire for freedom will always win.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Putin cannot understand that if you give people a choice, they choose liberty. And in Ukraine's case, they fight for liberation. He cannot understand that the fight of the Ukrainians is different to the fight of Russian soldiers whose lives Putin has callously churned for a past long gone and a future that could never exist. Ukraine's sacrifice is the opposite. Why do they fight? Because they are battling, toiling for something existential and inherent to the human condition. This is why Ukraine's will is not just stronger than Russia's, it is fundamentally different in nature and in character. And this is what Putin will never comprehend about us. This is why his invasion was not just morally but also strategically wrong. He cannot understand freedom and why we fight for it because his only instinct is to crush what he fears. And this explains what has happened in the last two years. Instead of toppling Kyiv, dividing the EU and weakening NATO, the exact opposite has happened on each and every count. With the support of the EU and our allies, Ukraine has not only held firm against a bigger country, bigger army and bigger economy. But it has retaken more than half of the territory that Russia occupied from the start of this conflict. They have knocked back Russian offensives last winter – and are doing the same now. And this indomitable spirit is what we have to keep in mind here in Europe and right across the democratic world at this juncture of the war. There is no time for wavering or navel-gazing. The message Europe sent at last week's European Council was crystal clear, and let me repeat it here: Europe will be at Ukraine's side for every single day of the war, and for every single day thereafter. This is what it means to be European and believe in a destiny that is built on the everyday desire to leave behind a future in which our children flourish.

Honourable Members,

We must keep up our momentum to support Ukraine and to protect our own future. That means thinking about reconstruction, about security commitments, about strengthening the international system to avoid any repeats or reruns. It also means continuing to support in every way we can. Take military support. So far, we have trained over 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers. Our Union and Member States have mobilised EUR 28 billion worth of military equipment. The European defence industry has increased its production capacity for ammunition by 40%. We will have delivered over half a million rounds of artillery shells by next month. More than 1 million by the end of the year. But this is certainly not enough. Not only must we accelerate the delivery of ammunition to Ukraine. As we look to the future, we must think of Ukraine's defence capabilities as part of our own defence capabilities. We must think of Ukraine's defence industry as part of our own defence industry. This is why we have involved Ukraine in the preparations for our own Defence Industrial Strategy. It is a first step, which should lead to integrating Ukraine in some of our defence programmes, with the agreement of the European Parliament and Council, where necessary. This would not only help us cater for Ukraine's defence needs, it would also encourage convergence and joint planning between our militaries and defence industries. Ukraine is a future member of our European Union. So it must get much closer to us also in the field of defence.

This leads me to my third point, on Ukraine's path towards our Union. The contrast with just ten years ago could not be starker. Back then, a pro-Russia regime in Ukraine was passing authoritarian laws and killing protesters on the streets. Today, the country has just given itself new legislation to expand national minority rights, to improve the judicial system, and to ensure checks and balances on power. This is what led us to launching the accession negotiations. And this progress is happening not only because Europe is asking for it. This is the deep desire of the people of Ukraine. Ukraine is Europe, because Europe is in the hearts and minds of Ukrainians. And soon enough, Ukraine will also be in our Union.

Honourable Members,

The anniversary that we mark today is a tragic tale of human loss and suffering. And it is all the more tragic as we know there will be more pain and suffering ahead. We know how much is at stake here for those in Ukraine and also for the rest of us in Europe. Putin's fantasy and fabricated war – and Ukraine's heroic resistance has reminded us here that our freedoms and our democracy are worth fighting for. So today, we pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in fighting for something.

Slava Ukraini, and long live Europe.