EU chief Michel pledges 'unwavering support' to Ukraine

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union Council President expressed the 27-nation bloc’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine Thursday, as the nation faces a major Russian military buildup on its eastern border.

Charles Michel said after a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that “the EU is united in its solidarity with Ukraine.”

Michel said in a statement that Russia’s moves on the border “represent threatening and destabilizing activities.”

Michel also said he would attend the Crimean Platform Summit in Ukraine on August 23, on the eve of the nation’s independence day.

His attendance gained special attention after the president of the EU’s executive Commission turned down an invitation from Zelenskyy to attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the country’s independence.

It briefly raised questions about the EU’s commitments to Ukraine. 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 massing 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 EU 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.