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First Step Toward Ukraine Joining E.U. Signals Solidarity Amid War

BRUSSELS — The European Union formally made Ukraine a candidate for membership on Thursday, signaling within the face of a devastating Russian navy onslaught that it sees Ukraine’s future as mendacity in an embrace of the democratic West.

Whereas Ukraine’s accession into the bloc might take a decade or extra, the choice sends a robust message of solidarity to Kyiv and a rebuke to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has labored for years to maintain Ukraine from constructing Western ties.

Earlier than Mr. Putin launched the invasion in February, insisting that Ukraine rightly belonged in Russia’s orbit, E.U. leaders wouldn’t have significantly thought-about beginning Ukraine, with its historical past of oligarchy and corruption, on the trail to membership.

The choice got here at a vital second within the conflict, as Russia threatens to seize extra territory in jap Ukraine, the place Ukrainian forces are outgunned and liable to being encircled in fierce fight across the metropolis of Lysychansk.

The leaders of the 27 E.U. nations, assembly Thursday in Brussels, additionally granted candidate standing to Ukraine’s southwestern neighbor, Moldova, spurred by considerations over Russia’s aggression within the area. Each international locations, former Soviet republics, face tough paths to membership within the bloc that may require them to reform their political and financial techniques, strengthen the rule of legislation and battle corruption.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine referred to as the E.U. transfer “one of the vital choices for Ukraine” in its 30 years as an unbiased state.

“That is the best step towards strengthening Europe that could possibly be taken proper now, in our time, and exactly within the context of the Russian conflict, which is testing our potential to protect freedom and unity,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on Telegram.

Ukraine’s international minister, Dmytro Kuleba, mentioned in an interview that the choice to grant Ukraine’s candidacy confirmed that the bloc was “overcoming the final psychological barrier within the relations between Ukraine and the European Union.”

He mentioned he was not involved about how lengthy it would take for Ukraine to hitch the European Union, which he likened to a “liberal empire” that’s increasing because the “Russian empire is shrinking.”

“It could take a yr. It could take a decade,” Mr. Kuleba mentioned. “However 10 years in the past, within the notion of the European elite, we have been nonetheless part of the Russian world.”

The prospect of European Union membership has been overshadowed in Ukraine by the each day brutality of the invasion. Russian forces are hammering the final pocket of resistance within the jap Luhansk Province, the place an intensifying battle seems to place Ukrainian troops liable to their biggest losses because the fall of Mariupol a month in the past.

On Thursday, Russian forces pounded Ukrainian provide strains into that pocket. But there was no signal of a broad retreat by Ukraine’s forces, as a Ukrainian fighter jet screamed by means of the sky and troops dug into defensive positions.

Amid the fierce preventing, Ukraine’s protection chief hailed the arrival of superior artillery rocket launcher techniques from the USA, the newest in a cache of highly effective weapons from the West. However it stays unclear if the comparatively small variety of the HIMARS rocket artillery techniques despatched by the Pentagon will shift the battlefield dynamic.

The White Home on Thursday approved $450 million in new navy assist to Ukraine, along with billions delivered already this yr, together with 4 extra HIMARS launchers, 1,200 grenade launchers, 2,000 machine weapons and 18 patrol boats, the Pentagon mentioned.

The Ukrainian navy excessive command mentioned that Moscow was persevering with so as to add males and armor within the battle to seize Lysychansk and end off the Ukrainian resistance in close by Sievierodonetsk. The cities lie on both aspect of the Siversky Donets River.

On Thursday, shelling close to the provision strains that run towards Lysychansk was incessant. Ukrainian rocket launchers, their tubes loaded, waited to maneuver into place or sped towards the entrance. What seemed to be two cruise missiles additionally hit Bakhmut, about 30 miles to the southwest, a provide hub for Ukrainians, sending mushroom-shaped clouds of smoke into the air.

Army analysts mentioned that the cussed Ukrainian protection has severely depleted Russia’s preventing pressure. However Ukraine has additionally absorbed heavy losses and has turned to undertrained troops as reinforcements.

Likening the 2 armies to boxers exhausted after 18 rounds, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky mentioned the battle was reaching its “fearsome climax.”

“The specter of a tactical Russian victory is there, however they haven’t completed it but,” the adviser, Oleksiy Arestovich, mentioned on nationwide tv.

Making Ukraine a candidate for European Union membership can have no fast impact on the battle, and merely begins an unsure course of towards accession. Turkey has been a candidate since 1999 and North Macedonia since 2005, and each have but to hitch the bloc. In a system that works by consensus, any nation successfully has a veto over new members.

But the choice was sure to annoy Mr. Putin, who has had a charged and vexing relationship with the European Union — and with the need by a rising numbers of Ukrainians to hitch it.

Requested final week about Ukraine’s looming candidate standing, Mr. Putin sounded uncharacteristically subdued. “We’ve no objections,” he mentioned.

However since then, Russian officers have despatched a lot sharper alerts.

“We contemplate the E.U. enlargement course of to be adverse — hostile, in reality — in relation to Russian nationwide pursuits,” Russia’s ambassador to the bloc, Vladimir A. Chizhov, told a state-run newspaper this week.

The truth is, Ukraine’s need to attract nearer to the European Union helped set off almost a decade of battle. In 2013, a Kremlin-backed president of Ukraine, Viktor F. Yanukovych, was on the verge of signing a preferred E.U. commerce deal when he reneged below strain from Mr. Putin. Mass pro-Western protests ensued, toppling Mr. Yanukovych, and Mr. Putin responded by seizing Crimea from Ukraine and fomenting a separatist insurgency that took management of elements of the jap Donbas area.

The Kremlin has argued that Ukraine’s membership bid is the product of an anti-Russian alliance between Washington and London that has been pushing the hassle towards the European Union’s greatest pursuits — a view that European leaders dismiss as absurd.

Russian officers have additionally depicted the enlargement of the European Union as a twin menace alongside the enlargement of NATO. The rationale Mr. Putin and his circle have supplied for going to conflict leans closely on unfounded claims that NATO was transferring into Ukraine.

Mr. Chizhov, the Russian ambassador, told the Izvestia newspaper that the European Union “these days has degraded to the extent of an auxiliary navy bloc, auxiliary to NATO.”

For Russians and Ukrainians alike, the query of whether or not Ukraine will sometime be part of the European Union is secondary to the extra fast query of how the nation survives the Russian invasion. Which may be one cause Ukraine’s membership bid has not been a prime information story in Russia.

“There’s a viewpoint that Ukraine both gained’t exist, or gained’t exist in its present geographic boundaries,” mentioned Andrei Kortunov, director common of the Russian Worldwide Affairs Council, a analysis group near the Russian authorities, describing the view in Moscow. “This sense even additional reduces the importance of the choice on candidate standing. As a result of all the pieces can change.”

Russia can be utilizing its huge vitality sources to inflict financial ache on Ukraine’s European allies.

Per week after Russia’s state vitality big, Gazprom, reduced its natural gas deliveries to Germany by 60 p.c, Germany triggered the second stage of its three-step emergency fuel plan on Thursday, warning that it was in a disaster that might worsen in coming months.

“The scenario is severe and winter will come,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economic system minister, mentioned at a information convention in Berlin. The plan’s third step would allow the federal government to start fuel rationing.

“Even should you don’t really feel it but: We’re in a fuel disaster,” he mentioned. “Fuel is a scarce commodity any more. Costs are already excessive and now we have to be ready for additional will increase. It will have an effect on industrial manufacturing and turn out to be an enormous burden for a lot of shoppers.”

Mr. Habeck referred to as Gazprom’s cutbacks a deliberate financial assault by Mr. Putin.

“It’s clearly Putin’s technique,” he mentioned, “to create insecurity, drive up costs and divide us as a society.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Bakhmut, Ukraine, and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Natalia Yermak from Bakhmut, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Anton Troianovski and Melissa Eddy from Berlin, John Ismay from Washington, Marc Santora from Warsaw and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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