EU grants Ukraine and Moldova candidate country status
It has now been four months since Vladimir Putin sent Russian forces across the Ukrainian border, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. Fighting continues to rage in the East Donbass region, where Putin in February claimed two independent mandatory states – the people’s republics of Lugansk and Donetsk. Seeking to avoid encirclement, Ukraine on Friday ordered its troops to withdraw from their remaining position in Severodonetsk, a key city of 100,000 people that served as an administrative center for Ukrainian-controlled parts of Luhansk.
Instantaneous: With Ukraine still holding more than a third of the Donetsk region, including the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, a takeover of Severodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk would prompt Moscow to announce the complete “liberation” of at least one of the two people’s republics. Putin shifted his military efforts there after setbacks in the capture of Kyiv and an unsuccessful attempt to install a pro-Russian government in the Ukrainian capital. Moscow is also continuing most of the country’s southern regions as it seeks to form a land bridge between mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula.
As the war drags on, Ukraine is pleading with Western nations to obtain heavy weapons, but is also seeking to strengthen its ties with the European Union in order to “preserve its freedom and unity”. EU leaders last night granted “candidate status” to Ukraine and Moldova (another former Soviet state), paving the way for the two countries to potentially join the bloc. “This is a decision for freedom and democracy and puts us on the right side of history,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said ahead of the final decision.
Next steps: Joining the EU is a process that usually takes years or even decades, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hopes to speed up negotiations. Countries must meet strict criteria, ranging from economic stability and a functioning market economy to the eradication of corruption and respect for human rights. The most recent country to join the EU was Croatia in 2013, which took nine years to go from candidate status to membership after winning the approval of all 27 EU governments.