Ukraine crisis: welcome EU decision to grant membership, says Zelenskyy

Ukraine became a candidate for European Union membership on Thursday, a bold geopolitical step sparked by the Russian invasion that Kyiv and Brussels hailed as a “historic moment”.

Beginning the long road to EU membership will be a huge boost to the embattled country’s morale, as Russian assaults on two towns in the eastern Donbass region are heading for a “fearsome climax”, according to a Ukrainian government adviser.

“The future of Ukraine is in the EU,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter after the official announcement.

“A historic moment,” tweeted European Council chief Charles Michel, adding: “Our future is together.”

The endorsement of the Kyiv government’s candidacy by EU leaders meeting in Brussels will anger Russia as it struggles to impose its will on Ukraine. Moldova also became an official candidate on Thursday, signaling the bloc’s intention to push deep into the former Soviet Union.

Friday will mark four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” sparked in part by Western encroachment on what Russia sees as its sphere of power. influence.

The conflict, which the West sees as Russia’s unwarranted war of aggression, has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities, while cuts in food and energy exports have hit countries all over the world.

Russia has focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance on the capital early in the conflict was thwarted by Ukrainian resistance.

The attrition war in Donbass – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – is most critical in the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which lie on opposite banks of the Siverskyi Donets river in Luhansk province.

The battle there “is entering a kind of fearsome climax,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy.

HOT SUMMER

Russian forces were trying to surround Ukrainian troops defending Lysychansk, senior Ukrainian defense official Oleksiy Gromov said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai separately said that all of Lysychansk was within range of Russian fire and that Ukrainian troops there could retreat to new positions to avoid being trapped.

Russian-backed separatist forces said heavy fighting was underway around Ukrainian positions in Hirske, which is on the western side of the main north-south road to Lysychansk, and Zolote, another settlement to the south.

Ukrainian forces were defending Sievierodonetsk and nearby Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Gaidai said, but Russian troops had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south. Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk.

On the southern front, Russian forces hit fuel tanks and military equipment of the Ukrainian army near Mykolaiv with high-precision weapons, the Russian Defense Ministry said, quoted by the Interfax news agency. .

A river port and shipbuilding center off the Black Sea, Mykolaiv has been a stronghold against Russian efforts to push west towards Ukraine’s main port city of Odessa.

Zelenskiy urged Ukraine’s allies to speed up heavy weapons deliveries to match Russia on the battlefield. “We must liberate our land and achieve victory, but faster, much faster,” he said in a video address on Thursday.

Later, the Ukrainian Defense Minister said that the HIMARS multiple rocket systems had arrived from the United States. With a range of 70 km (44 miles), the systems can challenge Russian artillery batteries that have bludgeoned Ukrainian cities from afar.

The United States will provide an additional $450 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including more long-range rocket systems, U.S. officials said Thursday.

SHIELD FOR THE EU

Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and Western groupings like the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Diplomats say it will take a decade or more for Ukraine to meet the criteria for EU membership.

But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was confident Ukraine and Moldova would move as quickly as possible to implement the necessary reforms.

Their decision to join the EU goes hand in hand with Sweden’s and Finland’s demands to join NATO in the wake of the Russian invasion – indications that the Kremlin’s military actions have backfired its geopolitical objectives.

In Kyiv, where mass protests eight years ago toppled the then president after he broke his promise to develop closer ties with the EU, 22-year-old military man Volodymyr Yanishan hailed the candidate status of Ukraine.

“It means people have almost achieved what we have been striving for since 2014, in a bloody fight that cost us a lot of effort…I think the majority will be happy and that means changes for the better.”

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Christi C. Elwood