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UKRAINE

EU eyes more Ukraine arms aid and big Russia sanctions

The European Union on Friday eyed an extra 500 million euros in military support for Ukraine and fresh sanctions on Russia, as Moscow's war spurred vows to bolster the bloc's defences.

Ukraine servicemen praying
Servicemen of Ukraine's Azov Battalion pray in the Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 11, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP)

EU leaders meeting for a summit in France’s Palace of Versailles described Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as a wake-up call for the 27-nation bloc to take a tougher approach to ensuring its security.

“There’s no denying the fact that two weeks ago we woke up in a different Europe, in a different world,” European Council chief Charles Michel said.

The EU’s executive put forward a proposal to double its financing for sending weapons to Ukraine to one billion euros as the West scrambles to back Kyiv’s forces in the face of the Kremlin’s onslaught.

The bloc last month broke a longstanding taboo by agreeing to pay for arms deliveries to Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of his pro-Western neighbour.

The move was part of a broad push by Ukraine’s allies to send weapons amid desperate pleas from Kyiv for air defence systems after calls to impose a no-fly zone were rebuffed.

Alongside further arms supplies, EU leaders also said they were readying a fresh round of economic punishment as they look to keep up pressure on Putin over the bloodshed.

The West has already hit Moscow with a barrage of unprecedented sanctions but the EU has so far failed to agree to follow the US lead in hitting Russia’s key oil and gas exports.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would talk to Putin again in the coming hours with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Macron warned the Kremlin leader of further “massive sanctions” if he steps up the bombing or seeks to besiege Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

“In that case, nothing is off the table, nothing is taboo,” Macron said.

“We will do whatever we deem to be effective and useful to halt Russia in its aggression.”

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen later said on Friday the bloc would ban the export of luxury goods to Russia, striking a “direct blow to the Russian elite”.

On Thursday, she said the 27 leaders agreed to explore ways to eliminate the bloc’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels in five years.

‘Invest more’
As the EU has broken new ground in sending arms abroad, it has also been shocked into reconsidering its approach to security after decades relying on US-led NATO to ensure Europe’s defences.

Leaders agreed in a declaration “to increase substantially defence expenditures” and bolster cooperation on military projects between member states.

“We must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies,” the declaration said.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the bloc was looking at issues such as whether to “procure common capabilities, for example, that are too expensive for any individual state to buy on their own.”

She also called for all EU members states — six of which are not in NATO — to mirror the military alliance’s commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence.

Collective security in the European Union is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s biggest military power, has been spearheading calls for an enhanced role for the bloc.

The assault on Ukraine has now prompted some about-turns.

Germany tore up decades of policy by agreeing to send weapons to Ukraine after the start of the war and has pledged an extra 100 billion euros ($110 billion) to help improve its armed forces.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said countries were acting “dangerously” by backing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

Long road to EU
The EU leaders on Thursday doused Ukraine’s hopes of quickly gaining European Union membership, saying it was a long-term process, not a “fast-track”.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said in a video message after Friday’s talks that Ukraine wanted the EU “to be more ambitious” in its commitments regarding possible membership.

But he insisted: “We Ukrainians know for 100 percent that Ukraine will be a member of the European Union,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of time.”

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Member comments

  1. NATO is old school cold war alliance but a new and improved EU army could work at addressing the security concerns of the bloc and even neutral countries could get behind it.

  2. NATO is old school cold war era alliance but an EU alliance could address the security concerns of the bloc inc with neutral countries.

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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