EU should support Ukraine’s membership bid as war brings huge change

  • Ukraine ‘belongs to European family’, says Scholz
  • “Europe can create a new history of freedom”, says Zelenskiy

Kyiv/BRUSSELS, June 17 (Reuters) – The European Union’s Executive Commission was due on Friday to give its blessing to the candidate status of Ukraine and two other former Soviet states, a historic move east of the vision of Europe caused by the Russian invasion.

Ukraine applied to join the EU just four days after Russian troops crossed its border in February. Four days later, Moldova and Georgia followed suit, two other states struggling with breakaway regions occupied by Russian troops.

The leaders of the EU’s three biggest powers – Germany, France and Italy – showed their solidarity on Thursday by visiting Kyiv, alongside the Romanian president.

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“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” said German Olaf Scholz after meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. EU leaders are expected to endorse the Commission’s recommendation at a summit next week.

Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will still face a long process to reach the standards required for membership, and there are other candidates in the waiting room. Membership is also not guaranteed – talks have stalled for years with Turkey, an official candidate since 1999.

But launching the formal process of admitting the three ex-Soviet states, a move that would have seemed unthinkable just months ago, amounts to a change comparable to the decision in the 1990s to welcome ex-communist countries from Eastern Europe.

“Precisely thanks to the bravery of the Ukrainians, Europe can create a new story of freedom and finally remove the gray zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video speech.

“Ukraine has moved closer to the EU, closer than ever since independence,” he said, citing unspecified “good news” to come.

If admitted, Ukraine would be the largest country in the EU in terms of land area and the fifth most populous. The three hopefuls are far poorer than any of the current EU members, with per capita output around half that of the poorest Bulgaria.

All have recent histories of unstable politics, domestic unrest, entrenched organized crime and unresolved conflicts with Russian-backed separatists claiming sovereignty over territory protected by troops from Moscow.

BLOCKADE OF PORTS

President Vladimir Putin has officially ordered his “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. One of his main goals was to stop the expansion of Western institutions that he described as a threat to Russia.

But the war, which has killed thousands, destroyed entire cities and driven millions to flight, has had the opposite effect. Finland and Sweden have asked to join the NATO military alliance, and the EU has opened its arms to the East.

In Ukraine, Russian forces were defeated in an attempt to storm the capital in March, but have since refocused on seizing more territory to the east.

The nearly four-month-old war has entered a phase of punitive attrition, with Russian forces relying on their huge advantage in artillery firepower to fight their way into Ukrainian cities.

Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out in Sievierodonetsk, the site of the worst fighting in recent weeks, on the eastern bank of the Siverskiy Donets River. It was impossible to evacuate more than 500 civilians who are trapped inside a chemical plant where troops are resisting, the regional governor said.

In the surrounding Donbass region, which Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies, Ukrainian forces mainly defend the opposite bank of the river.

In the south, Ukraine has launched a counter-offensive, claiming to have made inroads into most of Russia’s still-held territory it seized in the invasion. There have been few reports from the front line to confirm the situation in this area.

Ukraine claimed its forces struck a Russian tugboat carrying soldiers, weapons and ammunition to Russian-occupied Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost.

Among the top concerns of world leaders is Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, preventing exports of one of the world’s biggest sources of grain and threatening to trigger a global food crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was skeptical of Moscow’s acceptance of a United Nations proposal to open the ports.

“I already had talks a few weeks ago with President Putin, but he didn’t want to accept a UN resolution on this,” he said.

Russia blames the food crisis on Western sanctions, which it says are hurting its own grain exports, and Ukrainian ports cannot be opened because of the mines.

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Additional reports by Reuters offices; Writing by Peter Graff, editing by Angus MacSwan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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