EU institutions in row over leaking of details of potential Zelenskiy visit

Ukraine president reported to be planning trip to Brussels this week to meet EU leaders in person

Recriminations have broken out among EU officials after a possible visit by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to Brussels was leaked, raising concerns over his security.

Zelenskiy was reported to be planning a trip to Brussels this Thursday to meet EU leaders in person at a summit and address the European parliament in an extraordinary session.

He is thought to have only left Ukraine once since Russia’s invasion last February: he made a surprise visit to Washington in December, where he addressed a joint session of the US Congress and urged more military support. That trip was planned in top secrecy because of concerns for his safety, although details leaked the day before.

About 48 hours before the mooted trip to Brussels, the visit was reported by Italian media and later announced in a tweet by the European People’s party (EPP), the centre-right group of MEPs. “We look forward to welcoming you in Brussels, Mr President,” the tweet read. The post was swiftly deleted, but captured in a screenshot by Politico.

The European Council president, Charles Michel, who organises EU summits, holds the European parliament responsible for leaking the information. His spokesperson has neither confirmed nor denied the visit, saying: “There is an open invitation to President Zelenskiy to visit Brussels.”

The row is an embarrassment for the European parliament president, Roberta Metsola, whose officials are blamed for leaking the information. She is also a member of the EPP group, which briefly publicised the visit.

A spokesperson for Metsola said there had been an open invitation to Zelenskiy to address the parliament for more than a year, but declined to comment on how information on a possible visit this Thursday became public.

Zelenskiy last week played down any suggestions of a trip to Brussels, saying: “there are big risks if I go somewhere.”

The row reveals how rival EU institutions are jostling to show solidarity with Ukraine and demonstrate their support for Zelenskiy.

Separately, EU diplomats have said Michel and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, are vying to show support for Ukraine. The pair have both spoken in glowing terms about Ukraine’s prospects of joining the EU. But many member states argue the EU leaders should tone down their public rhetoric to avoid raising hopes of rapid accession to the bloc.

Meanwhile, a plan for Zelenskiy to give a speech via video link during the last night of Italy’s Sanremo song festival has been scrapped because of political controversy over his participation.

Italian politicians from across the spectrum said the appearance of the Ukrainian president would have been inappropriate for the popular annual music competition, which is televised by the state broadcaster, Rai.

Zelenskiy had been due to give his speech on Saturday night but will instead provide a written message that will be read out by the festival’s host, Amadeus.

Additional reporting by Angela Giuffrida in Rome


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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