European Union leaders met Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, pledging to strengthen ties and support the eastern European nation, particularly on the issue of Russia and energy security.

Zelenskiy hosted EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for the 23rd EU-Ukraine summit, a meeting held annually to enhance political and economic relations. 

The energy issue was high on the agenda. The Ukrainian leader has expressed strong opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which will link Russia to Germany, bypassing his country and, Zelenskiy says, increasing Europe’s energy reliance on Russia.

Ukraine, in conflict with Russia since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, wants to ensure it will remain a key transit country even after gas begins flowing through the pipeline. 

Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Zelenskiy said, “Energy security is also a guarantee of Ukraine’s independence and national sovereignty. The completion of the Nord Stream 2 [pipeline] opens up new challenges for Ukraine in addition to the existing ones.” 

Von der Leyen said the EU understands his concerns and pledged to work with Ukrainian experts “to secure sufficient supply for Ukraine.” 

During the meeting, the EU and Ukraine signed an “open skies” agreement to facilitate air travel between Ukraine and EU member states, by opening the market to low-cost airlines. 

Von der Leyen and Michel commended Zelenskiy on progress the nation has made, but added Ukraine needs to continue “staying focused on implementing reforms” in order to take their “partnership to the next level,” referring to possible EU membership. 

Zelenskiy expressed frustration at the lack of a firm timeline for that goal. He said, “It is already clear that we are following the same path, but where is the finish line on this path?” 

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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