Zelensky visited UK first after ‘Paris ignored request to meet Macron’

President Zelensky speaks of feeling of bravery during UK visit

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Emmanuel Macron missed out on being the first European leader to meet Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky this week, as Rishi Sunak swept in in his place. The French President had been in communication with the Ukrainian leader last week over the possibility of a state visit in Paris as the first leg of Volodymyr Zelensky’s European tour.

But according to the Wall Street Journal, “no specific invite from President Emmanuel Macron ever made it to Mr Zelensky”, allowing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to swiftly fill the gap.

The Ukrainian leader then travelled to London on Wednesday morning – only to meet with Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in Paris in the evening.

Zelensky, the WSJ reported, had no intention to stop in Paris before heading to Brussels on Thursday morning, but as he addressed the UK Parliament, Macron’s team worked around the clock to send out an invitation, securing the presence of Chancellor Scholz as well.

The rushed meeting in Paris lacked the pomp welcome Zelensky received in London where he met with King Charles and addressed MPs and Peers.

In comparison, the Ukrainian leader did not give any speeches in France but showed up for a joint press conference with the two EU leaders before having dinner at the Elysee.

The flustered move was criticised by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni who said the stopover in Paris before heading to Brussels was “inappropriate”.

The Ukrainian leader flew to the Belgian capital with Macron on Thursday morning to address MEPs in the European Parliament and participate to this month’s EU Council Summit.

Macron’s team insists the visit had been planned for weeks and denies any competition with the UK over Zelensky’s attention.

READ MORE: Zelensky fights back tears as he makes impassioned plea to EU leaders

Zelensky arrived to the European Parliament to rapturous applause, cheering and hoots from MEPs, insisting in his plenary speech that Ukraine’s fight against Russia was one fought for the freedom of Europe as a whole.

Addressing the chamber, he said: “A Ukraine that is winning is going to be member of the European Union.

“Europe will always be, and remain Europe as long as we are together and as long as we take care of our Europe, as we take care of the European way of life.”

Zelensky added that Russia wants to destroy the European way of life, but “we will not allow that.”

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He held up an EU flag after his address and the entire legislature stood in somber silence as the Ukrainian national anthem and then the European anthem “Ode to Joy” was played.

Zelensky then headed to the urn-shaped Europa building where the 27 EU leaders were meeting to push those same points.

Before Zelensky spoke, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said allies should consider “quickly, as a next step, providing long-range systems” and fighter jets to Ukraine. Metsola said the response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine “must be proportional to the threat, and the threat is existential.”

Metsola also told him that “we have your back. We were with you then, we are with you now, we will be with you for as long as it takes.”

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