The European Union has agreed to make Ukraine a candidate for membership of the bloc, setting in motion a potentially yearslong process that could pull the embattled country further away from Russia’s influence and bind it more closely to the West.
Ukraine applied for E.U. membership less than a week after Moscow invaded on Feb. 24.
The decision by the leaders of the 27-nation bloc to grant Ukraine candidate status Thursday was uncharacteristically rapid for the E.U. But the war and Ukraine’s request for fast-track consideration lent urgency to its cause.
The E.U. also granted candidate status to Moldova, which borders Ukraine.
Gaining membership could take years or even decades. Countries must meet a detailed host of economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles.
Ukraine will have to curb government corruption and adopt other reforms.
“It will strengthen Ukraine, it will strengthen Europe. It 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 announcement.
His comments came after it passed a resolution that called on governments to “move without delay” and “live up to their historical responsibility.”
The E.U.’s nations have been united in backing Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion with money and weapons, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against the Kremlin.
E.U. candidate status doesn’t give an automatic right to join the bloc and does not provide any immediate security guarantees.
Once a country gains membership, however, it is covered under an E.U. treaty clause that says if a member falls victim to armed aggression, the other E.U. countries are obligated to assist it by all the means in their power.
The main benefits of E.U. membership, though, are economic, since it gives access to a market of 450 million consumers with free movement of labor, goods, services and capital.
Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO, too, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation, in part because of governmental corruption, shortcomings in the country’s defense establishment, and its contested borders.
Before the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, which he has condemned for its eastward spread toward Russia’s flank.
But earlier this month, he did not seem bothered by Ukraine’s determination to get closer…