Kyiv’s EU envoy says Ukraine’s candidate status will send a clear signal to Russia | Ukraine

Written by Javed Iqbal

Grant Ukraine Candidate status for EU membership would be a historic decision signaling to Russia that it can no longer demand an sphere of influence over its eastern neighbor, Kiev’s ambassador to Brussels has said.

Vsevolod Chentsov, the leader of Ukraine’s mission to the EU, said Russia’s war had united Kyiv with the bloc, while ending what he called a “mistake” on whether his country could belong to the union.

Speaking to The Guardian ahead of a historically charged EU summit on Thursday, he said for many years that Ukraine had been seen as a bridge or a buffer state rather than a potential member.

A decision on candidate status would “definitively kill this ambiguity, what is Ukraine for the EU: whether we build a common house or not … I now finally believe that there is clarity.”

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EU leaders will on Thursday decide whether to grant Ukraine candidate status, after a positive recommendation from the European Commission on Friday. Expectations of a yes have grown since four EU leaders, including France and Germany, who were perceived as among the most lukewarm, visited Kiev last week to show support.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, submitted an application to join the EU five days after Russia’s attack began. On a day when the explosions were heard in Kiev, Zelenskiy called for “immediate accession during a new special procedure”. While the initial reaction from around 10 EU countries was deeply skeptical, opposition has fallen away, although there are still questions about the long road ahead.

Ukraine has applied for EU membership since 2004 “orange revolution” and more insistent since 2013-14 Maidan protestswhen the pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted after he refused to sign an association agreement with the bloc.

The decision to apply for EU membership on 29 February 2022 bore the same logic as the Maidan protests, Chentsov said: “Ukraine is fighting for independence and a European future. And at the end of February it just reached its highest point with the Russian full-fledged and open invasion of Ukraine.

“We need this clarity [on EU membership] to support the Ukrainian army, Ukrainian society, morally, psychologically and to gain a clear sense and understanding of the direction of movement of Ukraine. “

Before the war, EU membership was not an option for the country of 41 million affected by corruption. The EU’s association agreement with Kiev describes Ukraine as “a European country [that] share a common history and common values ​​”, but avoided mentioning membership.

Russia’s war had changed the perception of Ukraine for EU governments and their voters, the ambassador suggested. “This war fundamentally united us with the European Union at all possible levels: government to government, but primarily people to people.”

He said that “the fact that Europeans, citizens of the EU, receive Ukrainians as their brothers, they live under one roof” had been very important in changing the perception of whether Ukraine could be an EU member. “It’s not a strange country, we are not strange people. We are the same, we share the same understanding of this world. “

A survey published this week by the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, showed that 57% of Europeans supported Ukraine’s membership. Poland was most supportive with 70% for; in Germany, France and Italy, however, the aid was below 50% – at 48%, 47% and 46% respectively – although it still offset the resistance.

Zelenskiy had warned the EU to expect an increase in hostilities from Russia during the week of negotiations on Ukraine’s candidate status. His ambassador said the bloc should not make its decisions based on trying to predict the Kremlin’s mindset. Untitled EU capitals had previously made a “big mistake”, he claimed, by always “seeing[ing] on what Russia thinks and what Russia will do ”.

Some were still facing a “psychological blockade,” he said when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine. “The psychological block is to face the reality that they really need to support Ukraine to fight Russia effectively. Many countries could not imagine that they could provide weapons to fight Russia, and now they are on their way there. . “

If Ukraine is granted candidate status, it will take years to become a member of the EU. The Ambassador supported France’s proposal to create a “European political community”, an organization that will unite EU countries with past and future members on security, energy and opportunities for young people.

The French proposals were “a useful initiative… to avoid the vacuum, the gap between current status and future membership”, the ambassador said, refusing to say how long membership negotiations could take.

“It will certainly take some time,” Chentsov said, stressing his country’s own role in the need to implement far-reaching political and economic reforms. “We understand that we must implement these reforms first and foremost, for Ukraine, not for the EU.”

If EU leaders approve Ukraine’s request, it will be the first time the bloc has granted candidate status to a country at war.

As Ukraine’s defenders face intensify Russian attacks in the eastern Donbas, Ambassador Kyiv called on Allies to provide heavy weapons and financial assistance. “I think [the war] will last until the moment when [Vladimir] Putin understands that he needs to stop it. I believe that Ukraine needs a lot of support, both with heavy weapons, but also financial and economic support.

“Yes, our people are brave and the army is probably one of the strongest now … But we have to sustain our people, [with] both the weapons and the political support to isolate Russia politically, so that it prefers not a military but a negotiated outcome of the situation. “

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Javed Iqbal

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