Ukraine’s ambitions of joining the European Union (EU) received an important boost on Wednesday 8th November, when the bloc’s executive body said detailed negotiations on Ukraine’s membership should begin next year.
A recent EU report has said that the so-called accession talks should finally start; 18 months after the EU accepted Ukraine as a candidate state. The same report recommended that the process should also begin with Moldova, which borders Ukraine.
On Wednesday 8th November, EU President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today is a historic day, because today the Commission recommends that the Council opens accession negotiations with Ukraine and with Moldova.”
Ukraine has long held ambitions to join the EU. In 2013, then-President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after weeks of street protests when he decided to scrap a trade deal with the EU and instead shift towards Russia, this was followed in March 2014 by Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Historically, the aim of joining the bloc – along with NATO – has formally been part of Ukraine’s constitution since 2019.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who applied for EU membership in February 2022, shortly before Russia invaded his country, welcomed Wednesday’s announcement.
Zelensky said that, today, the history of Ukraine and the whole of Europe has taken the right step. Despite all the difficulties, we are moving forward.
And although Ukraine welcomed Brussels’ suggestion that talks are open and it fully expects the 27 EU member states to agree and adopt the position later this year, the recommendation comes with some caveats that will be hard for Kyiv to comply with at this moment, particularly around the issue of fighting corruption.
Interestingly, it seems that the western resolve in support of Ukraine has remained remarkably solid ever since February 2022. Apart from extending financial and military support,their support for Ukraine joining Western institutions like the EU and NATO, many European officials have privately expressed wonder at precisely how long Europe has not only remained focused, but also not torn itself apart on the issue, as reported by the CNN.
Remarkably, Ukraine has had what the European diplomat described as “our undivided attention” for the best part of two years.
Since, February 2022, Zelenskyy has become a master at using the media to further his political aims. He has been able to persuade various Western governments to supply Ukraine with more weapons, ammunition and money for the defensive campaign against Russiausing the moral pressure of defending the Ukrainian citizens.
This sentimental sell has resulted in Ukraine getting many advanced armaments, which might not have possible in the peaceful time, such as heavy artillery, modern air defence systems, Leopard 2 tanks and even F-16 fighter jets – all weapons systems whose delivery to Ukraine had previously seemed unfathomable.
Significantly, Ukrainian officials have been concerned that lately global and in particular the US attention has shifted from Ukraine to the Middle East since the Hamas attacks on Israel on 7th October.
This trend could be noticed in the manner in which the President Joe Biden has requested a further $106 billion from Congress for Israel, Ukraine and the Pacific Rim. But the Republicans have put a spanner in his plans, Mike Johnson, the new speaker of the House, has agreed to wave through $14 billion for Israel, but hasn’t released even a single cent for Ukraine. Similarly, in the Senate, the Republicans only want to release the money for Kyiv if the U.S. government tightens its rules for asylum-seekers.
In reality any end to U.S. aid would be no less than a disaster for Ukraine. Its army is suffering from huge shortages after more than 600 days of war. At the moment Kyiv’s list of priorities are weapons for air defence – from portable devices including Stinger missiles to state-of-the-art missile defence systems like Europe’s Iris-T. Artillery and electronic warfare equipment to defend against Russian drones are also urgently needed in this war of attrition.
Commenting editorially on the development The Guardian commented editorially, that responding to recent talk of “war fatigue” in the west, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently acknowledged the gruelling nature of the attritional conflict that has been forced on Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. Nevertheless, he added, he was confident that support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian forces remained robust.
The Guardian’s editorial further opined that this view was vindicated on Wednesday, when Ms von der Leyen recommended that the European Union begin membership talks with Ukraine. This was a necessary and much-needed act of solidarity – all the more so at a time when international attention is focused on the tragic events in the Middle East.
Indeed, it is even possible the United States will start reducing its support to Ukraine, and the EU would not be able to make up for that shortfall, as it is not equipped to match the deep coffers of the U.S.
This is due to the fact that traditionally the U.S. can’t leave Israel, one of its most staunch allies, alone at this juncture, as this may transform into a completely reworked geopolitical scenario in the region with its accompanied global impact, and which the U.S. could least afford at present, with President Joe Biden facing one of the most crucial times of his presidency, with attacks from the liberal elements throughout the country accompanied with the Republican offensive for the next year’s presidential elections. (The author is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator. He can be reached at email@example.com)