Ukraine's Zelenskiy seeks emergency energy aid as allies gather in Paris
PARIS, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Ukraine's allies gathered in Paris on Tuesday he needed at least 800 million euros ($840 million) in urgent winter energy aid as Russian forces target civilian infrastructure across the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting about 70 countries and institutions to discuss what can be offered between now and March to maintain water, food, energy, health and transport amid freezing temperatures.
"Since Ukraine has got back on top on the ground, Russia, whose military weaknesses have been exposed, has adopted a cynical strategy that targets civilian infrastructure to bring Ukraine to its knees," Macron said in his opening speech.
"For each of your country's victories on the ground, Russia's cowardly response is to bomb power, gas or water infrastructure necessary for the people's survival this winter," Macron said.
Macron said France would provide 63 electric generators on top of the 100 delivered in November. With an additional 48.5 million euros, French aid would reach 200 million euros this year, he said.
Zelenskiy said he needed at least 800 million euros of emergency aid to tackle what he said was Russia's "energy terrorism" and help Ukrainians get through the winter.
"It's a lot, but the price is less than the cost of blackout," Zelenskiy said as he addressed the meeting via video link.
"Thousands of companies, social services, continue to function thanks to generators. Hospitals function thanks to generators. Thanks to these generators, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been saved," he said.
The international meeting will look to create an online mechanism so that Ukraine can put down its urgent needs and donor countries can respond in accordance, Macron said.
Zelenskiy's wife, Olena Zelenska, attended the Paris meeting in person. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would send 30 million LED bulbs to Ukraine.
"When 50 million of these bulbs are deployed with our partners, this will save 1 GW, the annual output of a nuclear plant," she said.
A second meeting between France, Ukraine and some 500 French companies will see what can be invested and done in the short to long-term.
The conference is also an opportunity for Macron to show his support for Ukraine, after he came under criticism from some European allies and Ukraine itself over the level of French military support and Macron's comments on Russia.
Macron's mixed messages on Ukraine have caused exasperation that has become increasingly public in some east European capitals. The French presidency has dismissed this saying his comments, notably on providing security guarantees for Russia, are taken out of context and Paris has never wavered in its support for Kyiv. (Writing by John Irish and Michel Rose)