Scholz, Macron and Draghi open the doors of the EU to Ukraine
It is barely a crack, but bright in the middle of the darkness. The door of the European Union was opened a crack for Ukraine yesterday, obtaining the support of its three main leaders to be granted candidate status immediately.
“My colleagues and I have come to Kyiv today with a clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
None of the three men, leaders of the leading EU economies, had visited Kyiv in the almost four months of war, and it was not for lack of Ukrainian insistence.
It was a long-awaited visit and it came at a critical moment, in an atmosphere of growing tension with the government of President Volodímir Zelenski. Under the incessant Russian onslaught in the east and south of the country, with 200 deaths a day, outgunned and outnumbered, Kyiv has redoubled its appeals to Western allies to send it more weapons. He has also raised the tone of criticism of Berlin and Paris –and to a lesser extent Rome–, whom he accuses of lukewarmness towards Vladimir Putin and even of trying to negotiate peace behind the backs of the Ukrainians.
Draghi stresses that gaining EU candidate status is “a very profound step”
Macron’s recent words caused special outrage, which he later tried to qualify, saying that a diplomatic solution must be achieved that “does not humiliate” Russia. For Kyiv, hinting that it must make territorial concessions to achieve peace is tantamount to a call for surrender. Without military victory there will be no peace, Zelensky insists.
That is why the visit of Macron, Scholz and Draghi, who were joined by the Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, had a lot of deflation. “We want to send a message of European unity and support to Ukrainian women and men,” Macron declared on the platform, getting off the night train that brought them from Poland. Air-raid sirens welcomed them to the capital of a country at war.
The choice of date was calculated. The European Commission is due to rule today on granting Ukraine candidate country status, a decision European leaders will discuss at a summit in Brussels next week. Having the support of France, Germany and Italy paves the way. Although it is only the first stone of an accession process that can last decades, it has a great symbolic dimension.
Ukraine applied to join the EU less than a week after the Russian invasion. It is a sensitive issue, which is opposed by some members, who see the country as very far from the standards of democratic demand or corruption.
The initial unity of the EU towards Russia is cracking: voices are growing in favor of pragmatism
The candidacy for the EU is a “very profound step”, Draghi recalled yesterday, who stressed that Kyiv will go ahead of the Balkan countries that have been waiting for years. The situation in Ukraine, however, is “extraordinary,” he added. His country “is ready to work” to become a full member of the EU, Zelensky said.
Europe reacted with surprising unity to the Russian invasion and took steps that seemed unthinkable, passing unprecedented sanctions or sending weapons. Very painful measures for a continent that, unlike the US, has a strong energy dependence on Russia.
That common front is cracking. The cracks between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe have always been there, but now they are widening. Russia’s neighbors – with the exception of Hungary and Bulgaria – see Putin as an existential threat and support a tough response. Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, voices are growing in favor of a pragmatic solution, even at the cost of resignations for the Ukrainians.
Macron affirmed yesterday that Europe will never require Ukraine to make any concessions to Russia and that the conditions of the peace negotiations will be decided by his government. But he insisted that he will continue to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, on the food issue.
European leaders travel to Kyiv to placate criticism of their alleged lukewarmness with Putin
The trip began full of emotion with a visit to Irpin, a city on the outskirts of Kyiv that the Russians razed and that symbolizes the Ukrainian resistance. They then met with Zelensky, after which they held a press conference in the garden of the presidential palace. European leaders, in suits and ties; the Ukrainian, with his already famous tight green shirt.
Zelenski presented a list of new sanctions that he would like to see. He also reiterated his calls for more, more powerful weapons: “We expect more shipments, essentially heavy weapons, modern artillery and anti-missile defense systems.”
From Russia came a scathing comment. Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov said he hoped European leaders had used the visit to force Zelensky to take “a realistic look at the state of affairs” and not simply give him more weapons. “It will only prolong the suffering of the people and cause more damage to the country.”