Zelenskyy seeks support, arms at Albania summit of Balkan nations

Ukrainian president promotes idea of joint arms production at two-day summit of Southeast European countries.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hold a press conference after he summit of Southeastern European countries on peace in Tirana, Albania, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Ukraine's president co-hosts a summit with Albania's government on Wednesday that is meant to encourage further support for Kyiv by southeastern European countries, as signs of fatigue grow two years after Russia's full-scale invasion. (AP Photo/Armando Babani)
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speak to the news media at the Balkans summit in Tirana, Albania, on February 28, 2024 [Armando Babani/AP Photo]

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has tried to drum up Balkan support for his vision of peace in Ukraine and has promoted the idea of joint arms production at a two-day summit of Southeast European countries.

The meeting was held in the Albanian capital, Tirana, as Kyiv is trying to improve its defensive capabilities to beat back Russian forces at a time of faltering US support a little more than two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion.

“We are interested in co-production with you and all our partners,” Zelenskyy told delegations from Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and Moldova in his opening remarks at the summit on Wednesday.

“There are about 500 defence companies operating in Ukraine. Each of them adds strength, but it is not enough to win [against Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We see the problems with the supply of ammunition, which affects the situation on the battlefield.”

Zelenskyy proposed organising a Ukrainian-Balkans defence forum in Kyiv or a Balkan capital to nurture arms cooperation, repeating similar initiatives conducted last year with British and US weapons companies.

Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro are NATO members, have joined Western sanctions against Russia, and sent arms and equipment to Ukraine. There are significant arms industries in parts of the Balkans, especially Serbia and Croatia, a legacy of the former Yugoslavia.

Longtime Moscow ally Serbia has not imposed sanctions, and neither Belgrade nor Kyiv recognise the independence of Kosovo, Serbia’s former predominantly Albanian southern province, which backs Ukraine and is seeking European Union and NATO membership.

Zelenskyy said he had invited all Balkan leaders to take part in a summit of partners and allies in Switzerland this spring that would discuss his vision of peace, which entails a Russian military withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory.

That diplomatic initiative – based on what is known as Zelenskyy’s “peace formula” – does not involve Russia and has been dismissed by Moscow as a non-starter.

Zelenskyy said he met Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama for talks and the two leaders had signed an Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation.

“This document will contribute to the development of cooperation and strengthening of Ukraine’s position in the Balkan region,” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram messenger.

His chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said: “They also spoke about Ukraine’s defence needs and the possibility of joint weapons production.”

Zelenskyy said at a news conference later that every time weapons supplies to Ukraine are delayed, it is a “gift” to Putin, an apparent allusion to the months-long impasse in the US Congress over providing more military aid to Kyiv.

Zelenskyy, who was in Saudi Arabia for talks on Tuesday, is also due to meet the leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro at the summit.

Thirteen countries are attending the summit along with officials from the EU and other international institutions.

“A pivotal moment for fostering bilateral ties, and standing in solidarity with Ukraine in its heroic fight against Russia’s aggression,” Albanian Foreign Minister Igli Hasani wrote on X shortly after Zelenskyy’s arrival.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, at least two civilians were killed in Kupiansk, a town in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, in a Russian attack with guided bombs, according to the head of the Kharkiv regional military administration.

Zelenskyy’s trip came as Kyiv’s forces are slowly being pushed back in eastern Ukraine. Russia has the upper hand due to its big advantage in troop numbers and weapons supplies, military analysts said, as Kyiv waits for news of new provisions from its Western partners.

The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday that after intense overnight fighting, it has withdrawn its forces from two more villages in the eastern region of Donetsk near Avdiivka, which fell to Russian forces this month after a four-month offensive.

Source: News Agencies