European Union leaders on Thursday granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status, the first official step towards membership for the former Soviet states, although the full process will take years, potentially over a decade.
“The Ukrainian people belong to the European family. Ukraine’s future is with the EU,” said Josep Borrel, the EU’s foreign policy chief. “Today marks the beginning of a long journey that we will walk together.”
The decision for Ukraine was viewed by Western media as a symbolic victory for Ukraine as it is battling Russian forces in the Donbas. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the EU decision was “a unique and historic moment.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that he doesn’t care if Ukraine joins the EU since it’s not a military alliance. “We have nothing against it. It’s their sovereign decision to join economic unions or not … It’s their business, the business of the Ukrainian people,” Putin said.
One of Russia’s main motives for invading Ukraine was Kyiv’s alignment with NATO. Under a peace deal Moscow proposed in March, Ukraine could still join the EU as long as it declared military neutrality, but ceasefire talks have since stalled, and Russia continues to make territorial gains in the east.