A dozen EU leaders gather in Vilnius to discuss ties, listen to Zelensky's requests

  • 2024-04-11
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Leaders of a dozen EU member countries and Ukraine have gathered in Vilnius on Thursday for the Three Seas Summit to discuss ties and joint projects.

Although the summit was initially expected to focus on energy, transport and cyber security, the topics were overshadowed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's requests for more air defense systems for the war-torn country.

"I will share with my partners all the details what is going now on the battlefield in Ukraine. Of course, urgent needs for Ukraine. I think it's not only for Ukraine, (but also) for European security," Zelensky told reporters on his arrival at the summit in the Lithuanian capital.

"Number one, of course, is air defense. I will speak with all the details," he said. 

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, who is hosting the leaders, underscored the need to rebuild Ukraine's economy.

"An important topic is the help and assistance to rebuild and restructure Ukraine's economy. We need not only to rebuild, but we have to build back better," he said before the meeting. 

Estonian President Alar Karis emphasized cooperation between Northern and Southern Europe.

"Connections between North and South are not only the priority, they're also a geopolitical necessity," he said in Vilnius.

Karis named aid to Ukraine and Rail Baltica as Estonia's priorities at the summit. 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose country joined the initiative last year, noted that the Three Seas Summit is taking place amid "geopolitical turmoil in Europe".

"Greece can significantly contribute to the Three Seas Initiative by opening up the southern route or connectivity (...) from the South to the North," he said. 

Greece's participation in the initiative can contribute both to better rail links and to strengthening renewable energy, according to Mitsotakis.

Virginijus Sinkevicius, who is representing the European Commission at the summit, said the focus will be on reinforcing the region and Europe as a whole. 

"Our strength comes in unity. (...) Today we need to unite again. First of all, to help Ukraine win the war, providing everything that Ukraine needs for that," he said. 

Europe also needs unity in reducing dependencies on third countries, the commissioner said.

"We managed to decrease our dependence on Russian fossil fuels; now it's time to ensure strategic autonomy from China materials," he said. 

Lithuania is hosting delegations from over 20 countries and 10 heads of state, including the presidents of neighboring Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Nauseda is chairing the summit's plenary session, which is expected to result in a joint declaration by the states' leaders.

The Three Seas Initiative brings together 13 EU member states located between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic Seas: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Greece.  

The US, Germany and the European Commission are the initiative's strategic partners.

Nauseda welcomed Japan as a new strategic partner of the initiative.