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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy pleads for more ammunition at Albania summit of southeastern European nations

By LLAZAR SEMINI, Associated Press
Published: February 28, 2024, 8:04am

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Ukraine’s president pleaded Wednesday for more ammunition to repel Russia as he co-hosted a summit with Albania’s government to build further support for Kyiv among southeastern European countries while signs of war fatigue grow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that increasing the supply of armaments, and especially ammunition, was “the most fundamental initiative” for Ukraine just over two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion. “I think this is the question of: Will we stand or not,” he said during his speech to the summit.

Zelenskyy arrived in Albania overnight to join a summit of eleven countries from southeastern Europe, including some of Ukraine’s neighbors — three of them participating online — along with officials from the European Union and other international organizations.

It was the latest stop in an international tour that saw him in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to push for a peace plan and the return of prisoners of war from Russia.

Zelenskyy sought to build solidarity among his country and those of the Western Balkans, saying that all of them deserved to be members of the European Union and NATO if they choose.

“The European Union and NATO have provided Europe with the longest and most reliable era of security and economic development, and we are all equally worthy of being a part of the European and Euro-Atlantic communities,” Zelenskyy said.

He said that Kyiv wanted “international law and global stability to be based on truly multilateral and transparent processes.”

Securing further support is key to Ukraine’s leader while his country faces battlefield challenges. Zelenskyy on Sunday announced that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action since Russia’s invasion — the first time that Kyiv had confirmed the number of its losses.

He acknowledged in Tirana that “the problems with the supply of ammunition … are effecting the situation on the battlefield,” though added that “we proved that it is possible to withstand and overcome even an enemy that seemed to be one of the strongest in the world.”

Ukraine has urged Western leaders to increase the joint production of weapons and ammunition, improve Ukrainian air defenses and put new pressure on Russia via expanded sanctions.

Not all the countries at the meeting are in full support for Ukraine in its war against Russia. Kremlin ally Serbia is the only European country that has refused to align with EU sanctions following Russia’s invasion. It continues signing cooperation agreements with Moscow.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he insisted that the summit statement should not include any call for sanctions on Russia and should not include proposed wording about Russia’s negative influence in the Balkan region.

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Albania, a NATO member since 2009 and a candidate for EU membership, has voiced its full support for Kyiv against Russia’s invasion. It has provided military assistance in the form of ammunition and training of Ukrainian military. It was among the first countries offering shelter to Ukrainian refugees. It has joined international sanctions against Russian officials and institutions.

As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in the last two years, Albania joined the U.S. in initiating resolutions against Russia’s invasion.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who Zelensky called Ukraine’s “unwavering friend,” wrote on Facebook that he was proud to welcome Zelenskyy for “a solidarity meeting and to further the commitment of our democracies against Russian aggression.”

Zelenskyy said all of the countries at the summit must remain vigilant over what Russian President Vladimir Putin does next.

“The interaction between us, between neighbors, between neighboring regions, between all partners, has become a factor that along with the resilience of our people in Ukraine, does not allow Putin to prevail,” Zelenskyy said.