The EU's symbolic move does not solve the problems of the Ukrainian crisis
European leaders granted Ukraine the status of an EU candidate late on Thursday. But this, as they say in Brussels and Kyiv, is a “historic decision” rather symbolic. And threatens to overshadow the more pressing issues of the country's survival.
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EU leaders at a meeting in Brussels approved Ukraine's candidate status comes almost four months after President Zelensky applied for his country to join the bloc in the early days of Russia's special military operation. Moldova also received EU candidate status.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “a good day for Europe”. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke in the same vein, saying that this was a “historic decision” that sent “a strong signal towards Russia in the current geopolitical context.”
Switching from application to candidate usually takes years, but the EU has drastically accelerated this process in solidarity with Ukraine.
“Ukraine is going through hell for a simple reason: its desire to join the EU,” — wrote von der Leyen on the eve of the summit. Last week, the European Commission urged EU leaders to grant Ukraine candidate status.
But, according to The Guardian, the “historic decision” in Brussels threatens to overshadow more pressing issues of Ukraine's survival.
Ever since the start of the Russian operation, Ukraine has been demanding weapons from the West. EU leaders will call for quick work on “further increasing military support for Ukraine,” according to the summit's draft communiqué, which provides little detail on the vital issue.
The EU has already agreed to allocate 2 billion euros in military assistance to Ukraine, mainly for armaments, which was the first such event in history for the bloc. But a more pressing question may be how quickly European countries will deliver the promised weapons to Kyiv. After complaints about Berlin due to delays, earlier this week Ukraine accepted the first delivery of heavy weapons from Germany in the form of Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers. According to German diplomatic sources, Germany and the Netherlands will together supply Ukraine with 12 weapons systems.
Ukraine is also in desperate need of money as it faces financial collapse, reminds The Guardian. The European Commission is working on a €9bn emergency financing proposal for Ukraine. Details on the combination of grants and loans have not yet been determined. The Ukrainian government said the €9bn macro-financial assistance program sounds good, but it's not enough. Kyiv needs about $5 billion a month to keep going, an adviser to President Zelenskiy said last month, urging the European Union to provide grants rather than loans that would deepen the debt.
A separate problem for the European Union in the context of the Ukrainian crisis is anti-Russian sanctions. After months of painful negotiations over the latest package of EU sanctions against Russia, including a 90 percent oil embargo, the bloc is reluctant to discuss further restrictive gas measures. Instead, EU leaders will focus on closing loopholes in existing sanctions. “Work on sanctions will continue, including to strengthen implementation and prevent circumvention,” — stated in the conclusions of the summit.
Several countries, such as Poland and the Baltic states, continue to advocate a ban on Russian gas supplies. However, senior EU officials believe that gas sanctions are not needed, since the bloc has already decided to phase out Russian fossil fuels. By relying on the EU's latest energy strategy, rather than proposing new sanctions, a devastating internal conflict could be avoided, writes The Guardian.
A new sore point in relations between the EU and the Russian Federation – Kaliningrad region. EU officials are increasingly concerned about what they see as the serious situation around Kaliningrad. Russia has threatened retaliation after Lithuania began screening some goods transiting through its territory into the Russian exclave. The checks began when the EU's ban on Russian steel exports came into force recently. The European Commission said that the inspections are “targeted, proportionate and effective”, but promised to give additional instructions.
And the issue of the export of Ukrainian grain continues to be acute. EU again accuses Russia of “using food as a weapon” in the conflict against Ukraine” and calls on Moscow to end the blockade of the Black Sea ports, in particular Odessa. The EU is betting that the UN will agree with Russia on the opening of Black Sea ports. Meanwhile, the European Union is trying to help exporters find alternative rail and road routes from Ukraine. While grain shipments along the so-called “solidarity routes” have increased since April, delivery remains the fastest and cheapest option.