Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – A Ukrainian official overseeing the country’s push to join the European Union said on Wednesday she was “100%” sure that all 27 EU countries would agree to Ukraine’s candidacy for EU membership during this week’s summit.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed similar optimism, calling it a “decisive moment” for Ukraine. Ukraine’s membership application is a top business priority for EU leaders meeting in Brussels.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishina said the decision could come as soon as Thursday, when the leaders’ summit begins.
Stefanishina said the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark were skeptical about starting accession talks with Ukraine while fighting the Russian invasion but were now supportive. When asked how confident she was in Ukraine’s acceptance as a candidate for EU membership, she said: “The day before the summit began, I can say 100%.”
The European Union’s executive arm threw its weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week. Stefanishina described the European Commission’s endorsement as a “game-changing factor” that removed the ground from under “the feet of those most reluctant”.
The status of the EU candidate, which can only be granted if the current member states unanimously agree, is the first step towards membership. It does not provide any security guarantees or an automatic right to join the block.
Ukraine’s full membership will depend on whether the war-torn country is able to meet the political and economic conditions. Potential newcomers need to demonstrate that they meet the criteria of democratic principles and must absorb 80,000 pages of rules covering everything from trade and immigration to fertilizer and the rule of law.
Stefanishina told the Associated Press that she believes Ukraine could become a member of the European Union within years, not the contracts that some European officials have signed.
“We are already very much integrated into the European Union,” she said. “We want to be a strong and competitive member state, so it could take two to 10 years.”
To assist the candidates, the Cluster can provide technical and financial assistance. European officials said Ukraine has already implemented about 70% of EU rules, regulations and standards, but also pointed to corruption and the need for deep political and economic reforms.
In a hypothetical chat to Canadian university students on Wednesday, Zelensky described the Brussels summit as “two critical days” that he, like Stevanichina, believed would result from approval of Ukraine’s candidacy for EU membership.
“This is a very defining moment for us, some people on my team say it’s like going into the light from the dark,” the Ukrainian president said. “With regard to our army and our society, this is a great motivator and a huge motivating factor for the unity and victory of the Ukrainian people.”
Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo said he spoke with Zelensky on Wednesday and assured him that Belgium would support Ukraine’s candidate status.
“Great efforts will be required, particularly in the fight against corruption and the establishment of an effective rule of law,” de Croce said. “But I am convinced that it is precisely the (post-war) reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide opportunities to take important steps forward.”
In other developments:
– Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said a Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier accompanying him were apparently “quietly executed” during the first weeks of the war while searching in Russian-occupied forests for a missing drone camera. The group sent investigators to the forest north of the capital, Kyiv, where the bodies of Max Levin and Private Oleksiy Chernyshov were found on April 1. The group said its team counted 14 bullet holes in the burning chassis of their car and found what appeared to be leftover droppings. by Russian soldiers.
– A local official said that Russian forces have captured three villages in the hotly contested eastern region of Ukraine. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Heidi told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the villages are located near Lysichansk, the last city in his province still under full Ukrainian control. Hayday said the Russians also took control of the strategic coal village of Toshkivka, enabling them to intensify the attacks.
– The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian forces killed up to 500 Ukrainian soldiers in Tuesday’s strikes against a shipyard in Mykolaiv. The ministry also said that Ukrainian forces evacuated up to 30 wounded and eight dead American and British fighters near the town of Mykolaivka in Donetsk region. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the allegations; Instead, they reported further Russian bombing of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Oleksandr Motozyanek, said the Russian army fires at least six in some battles, for every artillery shell fired by Ukrainian forces.
Satellite images of Snake Island show the damage caused by a Ukrainian attack on the Russian-occupied island in the Black Sea. Maxar Technologies images taken on Tuesday show three new burn areas that were not there four days ago. Russia and Ukraine provide conflicting accounts of the attack. The Ukrainian Army’s Southern Command said it inflicted “significant losses” on Russian forces in an attack using “various forces and methods of destruction”, while the Russian Defense Ministry said its air defenses had successfully repelled the Ukrainian attack. Russian forces captured the small rocky island in the early days of the war and used it to consolidate their control over the northwestern part of the sea.
Russian officials said a drone strike caused a fire at an oil refinery in southwest Russia on Wednesday. The fire engulfed a piece of machinery at the Novoshakhtinsk plant in the Rostov-on-Don region. Authorities said dozens of firefighters quickly contained the fire and no one was hurt. Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the strike.
– Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that a Turkish ship was allowed to leave the Russian-occupied port of Mariupol, following talks between Turkish and Russian defense ministry officials. A ministry statement said the Turkish cargo ship, Azov Concorde, was the first foreign ship allowed to leave Mariupol. The ministry did not say what the ship was carrying. The war halted important grain exports by sea. Turkish and Russian military delegations met in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss a possible deal to ship Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
— The French armed forces conducted a surprise military exercise in Estonia, and deployed more than 100 paratroopers in the Baltic country bordering Russia, the French Defense Ministry said on Wednesday. The statement said the airborne operation, code-named “Thunder Lynx”, made it possible, in a short time, to drop about 100 French paratroopers “over an area secured by Estonian soldiers”. The exercises were carried out in Estonia, a member of NATO, as an act of “strategic solidarity” during the Russian war in Ukraine.
Sam Petrikin contributed from Brussels, Hana Arherova from Kyiv, and Rob Gillis contributed in Toronto.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine