Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) react as they address a joint press conference following their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, 04 November 2023. EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO 33483


EU weighs advancing Ukraine’s membership bid as Russia war drags on


The European Union executive is expected to recommend taking Ukraine one step closer to becoming a member of the bloc this week, according to EU officials, a coveted prize for Kyiv as weariness creeps in nearly two years after Russia’s invasion.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s Brussels-based executive will publish a report on Wednesday assessing progress achieved towards membership by EU hopefuls. On a visit to Kyiv on Saturday, she praised Ukraine for making headway.

The report and recommendation will inform a key decision in December by a summit of the EU’s national leaders on whether to start formal membership negotiations with Kyiv.

Such talks take years before candidates meet extensive legal and economic criteria to join, and the bloc is not willing to take in a country at war.

Still, advancing Western integration is a top priority for Ukraine, where troops face battle fatigue and concerns swirl over the future of vital U.S. military aid.

The Commission said last June that Ukraine met two out of seven conditions the EU had set to start membership talks.

“You have made excellent progress,” von der Leyen told a news conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday.

“You are fighting an existential war and at the same time deeply reforming your country,” she said in highlighting reforms to Ukraine’s justice system, reining in oligarchs and tackling money laundering.

She expressed confidence that Ukraine would soon complete the remaining steps – related to fighting corruption and safeguarding minority rights – and advance on its EU path.

Zelenskiy said Kyiv would deliver on the conditions, and that a positive EU decision would give fresh motivation to his society and troops. He said Ukraine eventually joining the EU would strengthen both.

“There will be no grey geo-political zones in Europe. We will secure a new basis for growth and development of Ukraine and all European countries. We will guarantee to our country and citizens real economic and social security,” he said.

His comments capped a week when Ukraine’s commander-in-chief said the war was moving towards attritional fighting and the Italian premier spoke of international fatigue with the war during a prank call that was later made public.

In good news for Ukraine, Germany’s foreign minister expressed confidence that the EU would advance its bid to join.

Kyiv is expected to get a green light this week “on the understanding that” it does more to tackle graft and secure minority rights, the latter issue raised by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who prides himself on his contacts with Moscow.

The Commission report on Wednesday will also cover other EU hopefuls, including Georgia and Moldova.

The latter got nine conditions to start membership talks, including fighting organised crime, and can get a conditional positive recommendation along with its neighbour Ukraine.

“Moldova has shown its resilience and commitment to progress its EU agenda while taking measures to mitigate the impact of Russia’s war of aggression,” said a draft of the report, which was seen by Reuters ahead of official publication.

EU officials say Georgia has not satisfied the 12 conditions it was given to win candidate country status, something Kyiv and Chisinau secured last year a few months after Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

But Tbilisi has the backing of Orban and could still move ahead on its EU path as the bloc wrestles for influence with Russia.