“It’s the first step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer,” tweeted President Voldymyr Zelensky. “Precisely because of the bravery of the Ukrainians, Europe can create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia.”
One of President Vladimir Putin’s main objectives in launching an invasion that has killed thousands of people, destroyed cities and driven millions to flight was to halt the West’s eastward expansion via the Nato military alliance. Friday’s announcement underlined how the war has had the opposite effect: convincing Finland and Sweden to join Nato, and now the EU to embark on potentially its most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European states after the Cold War.
Putin played down the EU issue, saying on Friday: “We have nothing against it. It is not a military bloc. It’s the right of any country to join economic union.”
Leaders of EU countries are expected to endorse the membership candidacy decision at a summit next week. The leaders of the three biggest — Germany, France and Italy — conveyed their solidarity on Thursday by visiting Kyiv, along with the president of Romania.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu hailed a “strong signal of support for Moldova and our citizens” and said her government was committed to working hard on the process. While recommending candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, the Commission held off for more volatile Georgia, which it said must first meet more conditions.
If admitted, Ukraine would be the EU’s largest country by area and its fifth most populous. All three ex-Soviet hopefuls are far poorer than any existing EU members, with per capita output around half that of the current poorest, Bulgaria. All three have recent histories of volatile politics, domestic unrest, entrenched organised crime and unresolved conflicts with Russian-backed separatists proclaiming sovereignty over territory protected by Moscow’s troops.