The European Union (EU) formally accepted Ukraine's candidacy for the bloc's membership on Thursday, signalling a new era for the country caught in a vicious war with Russia that threatens significant territory loss. Both Kyiv and Brussels said the decision marked a "historic moment".
"Ukraine's future is in the EU," President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, while European Council chief Charles Michel said "our future is together."
Long Wait Over, Zelensky Says
"We have just received the candidacy. This is our victory ... We have waited for it for 120 days and for 30 years," ," Zelensky said on Instagram.
However, the move will further roil sentiment in Russia, which will not take kindly to the fact that the EU also accepted on Thursday the proposal of Moldova to become a member of the western bloc. The EU nod for Ukraine came even as the war with Russia entered the fifth month.
Though the EU has approved the motions by Ukraine and Moldova, the path to membership to the bloc is long. According to diplomats cited by Reuters, Ukraine will take at least a decade to meet the rigorous criteria for the EU membership. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, however, Ukraine would implement the reforms required as soon as possible.
It also comes amid a raging war in the Donbas, which according to the Zelensky administration is entering "a fearsome climax". Russia has made significant advances in the region, which forms Ukraine's industrial heartland.
After pounding Sievierodonetsk for weeks, the Russian forces are encircling Ukrainian troops defending Lysychansk, another major city in the region. According to Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai, Lysychansk is within reach of Russian military and Ukrainian troops are likely to make a tactical retreat to avoid getting trapped.
On Thursday, Zelenskyy asked his allies to accelerate delivery of weapons shipments. "We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly," he said, according to Reuters.
The Biden administration said on Thursday it will provide an additional US$450 million in security assistance to Ukraine. This will include more long-range rocket systems.