EU leaders will tell Ukraine: “you belong to our family”

European Union flags are seen outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

  • Summit focuses on weaning EU from Russian energy
  • The EU-27 will weigh in by strengthening its defenses and its economies
  • Ready to dash Ukraine’s hopes of early EU membership
  • Russian invasion triggers ‘tectonic shift’ in Europe

VERSAILLES, France, March 10 (Reuters) – European Union leaders will grapple on Thursday with how to reduce their dependence on Russian energy and boost political and moral support for Ukraine in the face of the invasion of Moscow, but will reject Kiev’s call for early membership of the bloc.

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third week, the EU will say “Ukraine belongs to our European family“, a draft statement showed, while leaders are also expected to approve a new sanctions package that save Russian fossil fuels.

“We will further strengthen our ties and deepen our partnership (with Ukraine), the draft statement reads.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

But such wording will disappoint President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has called on the EU to grant his country early membership of the bloc and for NATO to impose a no-fly zone on Ukrainian territory, a plea rejected by the Atlantic Alliance.

The prospect of accelerated enlargement on the EU’s eastern flank has divided member states ahead of the EU summit in the opulent Palace of Versailles, near Paris.

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, whose country shares a border with Russia, said Ukraine should be granted the EU bid, although he acknowledged this was only “the beginning of a long and difficult road”.

“It is important to show a clear and open door to Ukraine’s EU membership, that the way is open for it,” he told reporters.

Former communist countries like the Baltic states and Poland support Ukraine’s bid, but France, the Netherlands and others are more reluctant to suspend the lengthy regular membership process. It took 10 years for Croatia, the EU’s newest member, to join.

Ukraine already has free trade agreements and closer political and economic ties with the EU.

A senior EU diplomat said the bloc could consider integrating Ukraine into its student exchange program and inviting it more regularly to ministerial meetings once the crisis is over.

“SEPTEMBER 11 IN EUROPE”

The Russian invasion, launched on February 24, shattered the European security order that emerged from the ashes of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Moscow strongly opposes Ukraine’s EU and NATO membership, considering it a threat to Russia’s national security. He says his “special military operation” in Ukraine aims to change its pro-Western government and “demilitarize” its smaller neighbour.

“This war in Ukraine is Europe’s 9/11,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told Le Soir daily, referring to the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.

In a joint phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the EU summit, French and German leaders Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz demanded an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.

“Russia’s war of aggression constitutes a tectonic shift in European history,” EU leaders are expected to say in a joint statement, saying the invasion is leading to “increasing instability, strategic competition and security threats” for the continent.

The EU has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, including removing seven Russian banks from the SWIFT transaction system, targeting Moscow’s ally Belarus, and blacklisting Russian state officials and billionaire oligarchs close to the Kremlin.

However, while the United States has already banned imports of Russian oil, EU countries disagree on a deadline for getting rid of Russian fossil fuels. Read more

The EU still pays hundreds of millions of dollars every day to Russia, which supplies more than 40% of its natural gas, more than a quarter of its oil imports and nearly half of its coal. Austria, Germany, Hungary and Italy are particularly exposed.

Sanctions and EU enlargement require the unanimity of the 27 member states.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, Michel Rose, Juliette Jabkhiro, Richard Lough, Philip Blenkinsop, Marine Strauss and Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska Editing by Gareth Jones

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Comments are closed.