European leaders are poised to grant Ukraine candidate status, in a historic decision that opens the door to EU membership for the war-torn country and deals a blow to Vladimir Putin.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status later on Thursday, nearly four months after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy launched his country’s bid to join the bloc in the first days of the invasion. Russian.

The move from candidate to candidate often takes years, but the EU has dramatically accelerated the process, amid outrage at the brutality of the unprovoked Russian attack, and to show solidarity with Ukraine’s defenders.

“Ukraine is going through hell for one simple reason: its desire to join the EU,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on the eve of the summit. Last week, the commission asked EU leaders to grant candidate status to Ukraine. “Our opinion recognizes the immense progress that [Ukrainian] democracy has achieved since the Maidan protests of 2014,” said Von der Leyen.

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Welcoming the expected positive decision, Zelenskiy said: “This is like coming out of the darkness into the light.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the candidate status would “draw a line under decades of ambiguity and set it in stone: Ukraine is Europe, not part of the ‘Russian world'”.

Speaking of the candidate status decision, Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, said earlier this week that the EU had moved “lightning speed” by his standards.

“We need this clarity [on EU membership] support the Ukrainian army, Ukrainian society, morally and psychologically, and get a clear feeling and understanding of the direction of the movement for Ukraine,” he said.

Ukraine has been seeking EU membership since the “orange revolution” of 2004 and more emphatically since the Maidan protests of 2013-14, when pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after he refused to sign a association agreement with the bloc. But before the war, EU membership was out of the question for the country of 41 million people that is plagued by corruption.

When Zelenskiy announced Ukraine’s EU candidacy, many Western European countries were skeptical. Senior officials counted 10 member states that opposed candidate status for Ukraine, but the mood has changed as leaders feared they were on the wrong side of history.

EU capitals also know that accession negotiations will take many years. The process may go the other way, if a future Kyiv government fails to implement reforms in the rule of law and bring its economy in line with EU standards.

A draft of the summit’s conclusions seen by The Guardian states that a candidate country’s progress will depend on “its own merit”, but also “taking into account the EU’s ability to absorb new members”.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said the EU must “reform its internal procedures” to prepare for new members, and has called for greater use of qualified majority voting in areas such as foreign policy, to end a country that blocks a decision.

France is one of several countries that oppose giving up its veto power over foreign policy decisions.

EU leaders are also expected to grant EU candidate status to Moldova, the former Soviet country of 3.5 million people that has seen rising tensions since the Russian invasion of its neighbor. Georgia is expected to be given a “European perspective,” one rung on the ladder below candidate status. Along with Moldova, Georgia applied to join the EU shortly after the Russian invasion, but Brussels is concerned about Tbilisi’s backsliding on the rule of law and press freedom.



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