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EU-Ukraine: Five takeways from Zelenskyy’s historic summit with EU leaders in Kyiv

President Zelenskyy and EU leaders discussed Kyiv’s candidacy to join the bloc and Russian sanctions at the unprecedented wartime gathering in the Ukrainian capital.

EU-Ukraine: Five takeways from Zelenskyy’s historic summit with EU leaders in Kyiv
03.02.2023 20:08
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The European Union promised more help and support for Ukraine at a historic summit in Kyiv on Friday — but its demands fell short of the country’s key demands.

President Zelenskyy’s call for a fast-track path to EU membership was heard sympathetically but as expected has not been granted.

The EU has pledged a tenth round of sanctions against Moscow to coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s war.

1. Historic event displays EU support for Ukraine

The high-profile visit to Kyiv saw 15 European Commissioners meeting with their Ukrainian counterparts in a historic show of support, the first time such an event took place in a war zone.

It came on the approach to the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with Kyiv seeking to boost political and military support from Europe.

“It’s the first time the EU is all holding a summit in a country at war. And the fact that the most of the Commission travelled to Kyiv for this event is, is is in itself a testimony to the commitment of the European Union to Ukraine,” Camille Grand, former senior official with NATO and now policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Euronews.

“So that’s something that is valuable and I think that the Ukrainians themselves appreciate. And let’s remember then this whole a lot of this conversation started back in 2014 when the Ukrainian population signalled its European aspirations on Maidan Square. So this is, I think, something that is in itself a very positive signal.”

2. No ‘fast-track’ path to EU membership for Ukraine

As expected, the outcome of the summit fell short of Kyiv’s demands for a fast-track process towards joining the EU. But EU leaders praised Ukraine’s commitment and progress so far. 

That did not prevent Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy from throwing down the gauntlet to the EU, saying formal accession negotiations to join the bloc should start “this year.” 

Earlier, in his nightly address on Thursday he said that Ukraine “deserves” to reach such a stage already.

European Council President Charles Michel tweeted upon his arrival in Kyiv on Friday that EU leaders would “support you every step of the way on your journey to the EU.”

Ukraine was granted full-candidate status last year, and Kyiv said recently that it hoped to become a full EU member by 2026. 

The EU, however, has not committed to any dates, instead underlining the need for Ukraine to step up its fight against endemic corruption, reform the judiciary to free it from political meddling, and strengthen its economy.

Meanwhile talks focused on improving access for Ukrainian products to the EU market

EU member states have disagreed over the message to be sent to Kyiv, with Poland and the Baltic states wanting the accession process sped up. But President Macron of France has warned that the accession process can take “decades” and a senior EU official warned that the bloc would not deviate from its methodology.

The joint statement published at the end of the summit said that the EU acknowledged Ukraine’s “considerable efforts” over meeting its objectives, welcomed its reform efforts in “difficult times”, and offered encouragement over its membership application.

“I think that’s going to be the debate over the coming months, of how fast can it go. The Ukrainians are sending a lot of very useful and positive signals, including on on sensitive issues such as the fight on corruption. But still, that debate is likely to continue as there are a member states that are reluctant to grant membership sort of as very substantial reforms in the economy,” Camille Grand of the ECFR told Euronews.

3. EU promises more sanctions against Russia

Ursula von der Leyen pledged a tenth round of sanctions marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war. The Commission president said the EU and the G7 were negotiating the final details of a plan to impose a price cap on the maritime trade of refined petroleum products made in Russia. A similar initiative limited the price of Russian seaborne crude.

The EU is also examining ways to confiscate Russian-owned assets frozen across nine packages of sanctions, including billions of foreign reserves held by the Russian Central Bank.

“We are making Putin pay for his atrocious war,” von der Leyen said on Thursday. 

The extra funds raised through confiscation are meant to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction, which the European Commission estimates to be worth at least €600 billion.

President Zelenskyy had called for more punitive measures against Russia by the European Union. 

“It’s not surprising that he would always want to see more. There’s certain pressure coming from other quarters as well, including Washington, to do more,” Ian Lesser, Vice President of the German Marshall Fund, told Euronews. 

“I think actually a lot has been done. I mean, it is pretty extraordinary, actually, how fast and how far Europe has gone on this question. It’s about sanctions, but it’s also especially in a transatlantic context about export controls, which are extremely important. And there’s been very close cooperation with the EU on that.”

4. EU pledges more aid for Ukraine

The EU has announced a doubling of the number of Ukrainian troops to be trained by the EU to 30,000 this year and promised €25 million for demining areas recaptured by Ukraine.

The bloc has already earmarked almost €60 billion in aid to Ukraine, including nearly €12 billion of military support and €18 billion to help run the country this year.

Much of the focus has been on military support. The European Council has approved an extra €500 million as part of a seventh package.

“Together with the military support provided by EU Member States, the overall EU military support to Ukraine is estimated at close to €12 billion,” said the joint statement at the end of the summit.

“I think it’s pretty clear to all sides that Europe is doing a lot and the European military assistance is really extraordinary in a sense,” said Ian Lesser. 

“There is now a very substantial training mission, for example, that’s been put in place. And this becomes extremely important because Europe is giving more and heavier equipment, including main battle tanks, to Ukraine. People have to be trained on those systems. So this is extremely important.”

The military contribution from EU states overall is far behind that of the United States, but the picture is different when taking into account other financial and humanitarian aid from Europe.

According to Germany’s Kiel Institute on the World Economy, by early December Europe had surpassed the US in the value of total aid committed to Ukraine. Its next update is due on 15 February.

5. Europe must be ready for the long haul

Europe cannot compete with the United States over military aid, but it is impacted more closely on an economic and humanitarian level by Russia’s war in Ukraine, and looks like being so for years to come.

Ian Lesser  of the German Marshall Fund says an important conversation is beginning about the future reconstruction of Ukraine, in which Europe will play a big role.

“Some call it a Marshall Plan for Ukraine, but whatever vocabulary you want to use, it’s going to require a great deal of money and it’s going to be money that’s difficult for Europe to find,” he told Euronews. 

“There is a lot of destruction. There’s a lot of the human cost, the uncertainty, the insecurity that’s likely really to do to characterise, you know, Ukraine’s geopolitical setting for years to come. Whatever the outcome of this immediate conflict is very, very substantial. So, you know, this is really in some ways at the core of the conversation that’s going on in Kyiv this week,” he added.

“I don’t think Europe, in a sense, has an alternative, because as much as this is a battle for Ukraine is also, in some ways a battle for Europe security. Europe has already made a tremendous commitment to that. The costs are there. The costs of abandoning Ukraine at some point in the future would be enormous.”

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