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EU on tour de force in Ukraine as war anniversary nears

2023-02-02T04:08:28Z

More than a dozen top European Union officials arrive in Kyiv on Thursday with promises of more military, financial and political aid, a symbolic trip meant to highlight support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion nears.

But the EU is set to dash Ukraine’s hopes of being swiftly allowed membership, stressing the need for more anti-corruption measures, and unwilling to admit a country at war, the biggest armed conflict in Europe since World War Two.

“It is a very strong signal that we are in Kyiv during the war. It’s a signal to the Ukrainian people. It’s a signal to Russia. It’s a signal to the world,” said a senior EU official.

On Thursday, top members of the EU’s executive European Commission will meet their counterparts in the Ukrainian government. On Friday the head of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the chairman of the 27 EU national leaders, Charles Michel, will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The first such gathering in the Ukrainian capital since the war started on Feb. 24, 2022, caps a fortnight during which the West pledged significant new weapons deliveries to Ukraine to help it battle against an expected new Russian offensive. Moscow has denounced these Western pledges as provocations.

The allies will discuss sending even more weapons and money to Ukraine, boosting access for Ukraine’s products to the EU market, helping Ukraine cover energy needs, slapping new sanctions against Russia, prosecuting the leadership in Moscow for the war and extending the EU no-roaming mobile calls zone to Ukraine.

Among those travelling to Kyiv is the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell, who is to announce the doubling of the number of Ukrainian troops to be trained by the bloc to 30,000 this year, and 25 million euros for demining areas recaptured by Ukraine.

So far, the 27-nation EU has earmarked nearly 60 billion euros ($65 bln) in aid to Ukraine, according to officials, including nearly 12 billion euros of military support and 18 billion euros promised to help run the country this year.

Despite much admiration for Ukraine’s resistance and praise for moves to crack down on corruption, the EU refuses to offer Kyiv a fast track to membership.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has said he wanted Ukraine to join the European Union in two years and a liberal Belgian EU lawmaker said teasingly he dreamt of it happening over the next five. In reality, that is most likely to take much longer.

“Some may want to speculate about the end game but the simple truth is that we are not there yet,” said another EU official.

Instead of committing to dates, EU officials have listed multiple conditions to join from political and economic stability to adopting EU laws from climate to social to health standards.

The EU would stress its “commitment to support Ukraine’s further European integration” after it formally gave it membership candidate status last June, and go on to say, according to a draft joint statement seen by Reuters:

“The EU will decide on further steps once all conditions … are fully met. Ukraine underlined its determination to meet the necessary requirements in order to start accession negotiations as soon as possible,” according to the document.

While recognising progress made by Ukraine on fighting corruption, the EU says the country must build a credible track record over time to shed its reputation for endemic graft, with Transparency International watchdog’s ranking Ukraine as one of the worst at 116th out of 180 states.

In a bid to demonstrate that it can be a steward of billions of dollars in Western aid, Zelenskiy’s government has cracked down on high-level corruption in recent days.

Ukraine’s calls for long-range rockets or fighter jets will equally be left unanswered by the EU this week.

The bloc’s looming new sanctions against Russia are also all but certain to fall short of expectations in Ukraine, which has called for the targeting of Russia’s nuclear industry. ($1 = 0.9172 euros)

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Local residents remove debris from a house of their neighbour damaged by a Russian military strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the town of Hlevakha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine January 26, 2023. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

The flag of the European Union and Ukraine’s national flag fly at a building in Bern, Switzerland September 19, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann