Ukraine's president meets with Balkan leaders after informal Athens gathering

Ukraine's president meets with Balkan leaders after informal Athens gathering

Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds talks with leaders of several Balkan countries, including Bulgaria and Serbia, along with top EU official in Greek capital

By Burc Eruygur and Talha Ozturk

ISTANBUL / BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday met with leaders of the Balkan countries in the Greek capital Athens following an informal dinner hosted by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis a day earlier.

In a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, Zelenskyy said he was counting on Bulgaria's support for establishing alternatives to the Black Sea grain deal.

"Ukraine is ready to use alternative ways for the 'grain corridor.' We count on Bulgaria's support in this regard," Zelenskyy said, according to a statement by the Ukrainian presidency.

Zelenskyy later met with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic, as both leaders stressed mutual support for territorial integrity and affirmed that sovereignty is “an important part of the partnership between Ukraine and Serbia.”

A statement by the Ukrainian presidency issued after the meeting said the presidents discussed “the most important issues of regional security, bilateral relations, and prospects for their development.”

Meanwhile, Vucic on Instagram said he discussed bilateral, regional and global matters with Zelenskyy.

Later Zelenskyy met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for talks on alternative routes in the Black Sea for the transfer of Ukrainian grain, particularly about its security and financial aspects, as well as ship insurance.

A statement by the Ukrainian presidency said that Zelenskyy thanked von der Leyen for the next tranche of aid worth €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion).

It further said that the duo also assessed Ukraine's progress in implementing the recommendations of the European Commission for Kyiv's EU membership process.

"We expect a positive assessment in the report within the enlargement package in October and a decision of the EU member states to start negotiations on Ukraine's membership in the European Union in 2023," Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian leader later held a meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, when the latter announced the provision of an additional €30 million military assistance package to Ukraine, which will increase Zagreb's support to Kyiv to €200 million.

Zelenskyy thanked Croatia for preparing a new defense package for Ukraine, said a presidential statement.

In a meeting between Zelenskyy and his Moldovan counterpart Maia Sandu, the two leaders discussed issues such as "bilateral cooperation, regional security, joint opposition to the Kremlin's aggressive policy and Russian hybrid influence," as well as the creation of alternative routes for exporting Ukrainian grain, according to a presidential statement.

Zelenskyy also held separate meetings with Montenegrin President Jakov Milatovic and North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski.

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