EU Leadership Holds Summit In Kiev Under Air Raid Sirens As Zelensky Urges Fast-Tracked Membership
A handful of top European Union officials gathered in Kiev with Ukraine's leadership on Friday under the sound of air raid sirens for a risky summit at a moment Ukraine is pushing to be fast-tracked for entry into the bloc. Though far from the front line fighting in the east and south, the capital has seen sporadic airstrikes over the past months, but none have been recorded thus far Friday while the summit is being held.
"There will be no let up in our resolve. We will also support you every step of the way on your journey to the EU," EU chairman Charles Michel wrote on Twitter Friday, with a photo of him in the capital's iconic central square. But Zelensky does has a specific timeline in mind, which he voiced Thursday after initial talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
"I believe that Ukraine deserves to start negotiations on EU membership this year," Zelensky told reporters. "Only together a strong Ukraine and a strong European Union can protect the life we value." EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell was also at the summit.
After Ukraine's candidacy was approved by the EU last June, huge hurdles remain which will without doubt make the process slower that Kiev desires, given any country seeking membership must meet key conditions in areas like corruption, an independent judiciary, media, and rule of law issues.
For this reason, European Commission President von der Leyen acknowledged "no rigid timelines" it is being guided by. "There are no rigid timelines, but there are goals that you [Ukraine] have to reach," she told Zelensky.
She did preview the EU's next sanctions package targeting Russia, which in part will focus on sanctioning makers of drone components the Russian military is using to target Ukraine's energy and civilian infrastructure.
In reality, if Ukraine is let into the EU, it will take not months but years:
"The EU will support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people against Russia's ongoing war of aggression for as long as it takes," the EU leaders were expected to say a joint statement, a draft of which was seen by Reuters in advance.
EU officials have listed multiple membership requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws. The process is likely to take years.
"Some may want to speculate about the endgame but the simple truth is that we are not there yet," an EU official said.
Still, von der Leyen, Charles Michel, and Borrell are vowing to support Ukraine "for as long as it takes". Yet Ukraine's leadership, accustomed of late to get almost anything it asks of the West (with the latest being Leopard and Abrams M1 battle tanks), is likely to continue to voice its impatience.
Together, we are bringing light to Ukraine!⁰— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) February 3, 2023
Ukrainians can exchange their old bulbs at the post office for energy-efficient LED bulbs.
The EU is gladly providing 35 million of them.
Every kW of energy saved is precious to counter Russia's energy war. pic.twitter.com/dkKpSRH6yv
Not helping things is Ukraine's notorious corruption. Recently, Zelensky has booted well over a dozen top officials from office in an effort to show his Western funders that the government is getting serious about rampant corruption, especially as tens of billions in foreign aid flows through Kiev coffers.
Zelensky on Friday also announced that Ukraine needs "accelerated" arms supplies if its forces hope to recapture Donbas, and at a moment Russian troops are poised to encircle the strategic city of Bakhmut.