Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gives a speech in the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, 01 July 2023. EFE/EPA/STRINGER

PM Sánchez vows to support Ukraine ‘as long as it takes’ as Spain launches EU presidency

Kyiv, Jul 1 (EFE).- Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday vowed to support Ukraine for as long as it takes as he spoke to the war-stricken nation’s parliament on the day Spain took over the European Union Council presidency. 

“The very first thing I did in my new capacity was to address the people of Ukraine through the Rada,” Sánchez told Ukraine’s lawmakers as Spain launched its six-month-long EU presidency.

“I wanted to tell you that we are and will be with you as long as it takes. I wanted to tell you that we will support Ukraine no matter the price to pay,” he said before announcing a fresh 55 million euro aid package for Ukraine.

The Spanish premier went on to explain that of the 51 million euros financed through the World Bank Group to support small and medium-sized Ukrainian companies, 4 million had been released through the United Nations development program to supply green energy systems to schools.

Sánchez pointed out that “things have changed” since his first speech before the Rada in February to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine, with the enemy “showing signs of weakness.”

“We have all seen the events of last week. They speak for themselves,” he said, referring to the failed coup led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner paramilitary group.

Sánchez expressed his conviction that Ukraine had emerged victorious from the power struggle and praised the “determination, strength and courage” of Ukrainians in their fight for freedom.

The Spanish PM spoke of a recent attack in the eastern city of Kramatorsk where Ukrainian author Victoria Amelina, who was traveling with a Colombian delegation, was severely injured.

“Victoria was close to the frontline because she wanted to document the tragedy. She wanted to collect the memory of infamy. The lost heritage. The broken lives. The crimes committed. We need women like Victoria Melina to write history.”

Regarding Ukraine’s aspirations of joining the EU, Sánchez said that “no one deserves it more than Ukraine”, but noted that “it is not an easy process, especially with an ongoing war.”

“To become a member state requires change, reforms and sacrifices, not long ago Spain faced this process,” he added. 

Sanchez added that “undertaking reforms has value in itself” by improving governance, boosting the economy, attracting investment and reinforcing international confidence.

“In time, they will grant you access to our Union,” the Spanish premier added, saying that Spain eagerly awaits the European Commission’s report on Ukraine’s bid in September, which “will set the basis for the future.”

The Spanish PM also spoke of the July NATO summit in Vilnius where he said that nations would have to “adapt to a different security environment”.

“In my view, it is clear that we cannot rely on the promises made after the Cold War anymore.”

Spain, he said, backs the creation of a NATO-Ukrainian Council, as a way to increase the political participation of Kyiv in the defense alliance.

“We are also in favor of enhancing the practical cooperation, to continue to adapt your defense sector to NATO standards,” he added.

The Spanish leader vowed his country would continue to do “its part” in delivering more Leopard tanks, armored vehicles, as well as a field hospital with surgical capacity.

Sanchez also met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy where the leaders “reiterated their unequivocal condemnation of Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine,” a joint statement read. 

“It is extremely symbolic that this visit takes place on the very first day of the Spanish Presidency of the EU,” Zelenskyy tweeted.

“Our common European home cannot be imagined without Ukraine, without our courage and commitment to freedom and justice,” he added. 

Spanish government sources told EFE that pledging military, humanitarian and economic aid for Ukraine and reinforcing the bloc’s commitment to the stabilization, recovery and reconstruction of the Eastern European country was a top priority of Spain’s presidency of the EU.

Sánchez will return to Spain later on Saturday and Sunday he will receive European Council President Charles Michel at the Moncloa Palace with whom he will have a working dinner.

On Monday, the EU’s College of Commissioners led by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will travel to Madrid and meet with Sánchez and members of his cabinet.

Spain has assumed the EU presidency with four main priorities: the reindustrialization of the EU and guaranteeing its open strategic autonomy, boosting an ecological transition, promoting greater social and economic justice, and reinforcing European unity.

This is the fifth time Spain has taken over the presidency of the EU council since joining the bloc in 1986.

Madrid will hold the presidency for six months, until Dec. 31.EFE