- EU leaders launch Ukraine’s membership process
- Zelensky urges West to speed up delivery of heavy weapons
- The Battle of the Twin Cities of Donbass reaches a critical stage
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine became a candidate to join the European Union on Thursday, in a bold geopolitical move unleashed by Russia’s invasion that Kyiv and Brussels called a “historic moment”.
The start of the long road to EU membership will be a boost to morale in the beleaguered country, as Russian attacks on two cities in the eastern Donbass region move toward a “frightening peak,” according to a Ukrainian government adviser.
“The future of Ukraine is in the European Union,” President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter after the official announcement.
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“Historic moment,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote on Twitter, adding: “Our future together.” Read more
The approval of the Kyiv government’s request by European Union leaders meeting in Brussels will enrage Russia as it struggles to impose its will on Ukraine. Moldova also became an official candidate on Thursday, indicating the bloc’s intent to push deeper into the former Soviet Union.
Friday marks the four-month anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin sending troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” sparked in part by Western encroachment on what Russia sees as its sphere of influence.
The conflict, which the West considers an unjustified war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities, while curtailing food and energy exports affected countries around the world.
Russia focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian resistance thwarted its advance on the capital in the early stages of the conflict.
The war of attrition in the Donbass – the industrial heart of Ukraine – is most significant in the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk, which are located on the opposite banks of the Seversky Donets River in Luhansk Province.
Oleksiy Aristovich, Zelensky’s advisor, said the battle there “enters some kind of frightening climax.”
Senior Ukrainian defense official Oleksiy Gromov said in a briefing on Thursday that Russian forces are trying to encircle the Ukrainian forces defending Lyschansk.
Separately, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said all of Lysekhansk was in Russian crossfire and that Ukrainian forces there could retreat to new positions to avoid falling into the trap.
Russia-backed separatist forces said fierce battles were raging around the Ukrainian positions at Hersk, which lies on the western side of the main north-south road to Lysechansk, and Zolote, another settlement in the south.
Gidayi said that Ukrainian forces were defending neighboring Severodonetsk and Zoloty and Vovsherovka, but that Russian forces had captured Loskotivka and Ray Oleksandryvka in the south. Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Severodonetsk.
And the Russian Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that on the southern front, Russian forces bombed fuel tanks and military equipment for the Ukrainian army near Mykolaiv with high-precision weapons.
Mykolaiv, a river port and shipbuilding center off the Black Sea, was a bulwark against Russian efforts to head west toward the main port city of Odessa in Ukraine.
Zelensky urged Ukraine’s allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield. “We must liberate our land and achieve victory, but much faster and much more quickly,” he said in a video address early Thursday.
Later, Ukraine’s Defense Minister said that multiple HIMARS missile systems had arrived from the United States. With a range of up to 70 kilometers (44 miles), the systems can challenge Russian artillery batteries that have struck Ukrainian cities from afar.
On Thursday, US officials said the United States will provide an additional $450 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including more long-range missile systems. Read more
Shield for the European Union
Russia has long been opposed to closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and Western groupings such as the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the European Union.
But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was convinced that Ukraine and Moldova would move as quickly as possible to implement the necessary reforms.
Their move to join the European Union goes hand in hand with applications from Sweden and Finland to join NATO in the wake of the Russian invasion – indications that the Kremlin’s military actions have backfired on its geopolitical goals.
In Kyiv, where mass protests eight years ago toppled the then-president after he broke his promise to develop closer ties with the European Union, 22-year-old soldier Volodymyr Yanishan welcomed the status of Ukraine’s candidate.
“This means that people have almost reached what we have been fighting for since 2014, in a bloody battle that cost us a lot of effort… I think the majority will be happy and that means changes for the better.”
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Angus McSwan, Alexandra Hudson and Humira Pamuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Catherine Evans and Rosalba O’Brien
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