EU Kicks Off Membership Talks With Ukraine, Moldova

On Tuesday, the European Union formally opened accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, putting the fragile ex-Soviet governments on a long road to membership that Russia has attempted to obstruct.

The historic move is geared, in particular, at casting a vote of confidence in Ukraine’s future, as Moscow gains momentum on the battlefield nearly two and a half years after the Kremlin’s invasion.

“These are absolutely historical moments. Ukraine is and will always be a part of a unified Europe,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky stated last week, as the EU’s 27 countries agreed to begin discussions.

“Millions of Ukrainians, and indeed generations of our people, are realising their European dream.”

Following Russia’s all-out assault in February 2022, Ukraine and its neighbor Moldova filed bids to join the EU.

The start of the negotiations in Luxembourg is simply the beginning of a long process of reforms fraught with political barriers that will most likely take many years – and may never lead to membership.

Not only will Russia’s destabilization operations impede that voyage, but so will skepticism among EU members, most especially Hungary.

So far, Ukraine — represented at the discussions by Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna — has received praise for launching a slew of reforms aimed at combating corruption and political involvement as the war rages.

“It’s a great credit to the Ukrainian government that they’ve made such progress so fast in the time of war towards accession,” Ireland’s foreign minister Michael Martin said on Monday.

“And I think it reflects a level of competence and genuine commitment on behalf of the Ukrainian government to joining the European Union.”

Complex process

Russia’s war in Ukraine has reignited the EU’s campaign to admit new members, following years in which nations, particularly those in the Western Balkans, made little progress in their bids to join.

In December 2023, the EU granted candidate status to Georgia, another of Russia’s former Soviet neighbours.

It also approved membership talks with Bosnia and continues talks with Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia.

The discussions with Ukraine and Moldova on Tuesday will kick off a screening process to determine how far the nations’ laws already comply with EU standards and how much work remains.

Once that is completed, the EU must begin building the groundwork for negotiations on 35 issues ranging from taxation to environmental policy.

It looks unlikely that progress will be made in the next six months, when Hungary — the EU’s friendliest country to Russia — assumes the rotating presidency.

The beginning of the discussions resonates strongly in Ukraine, as a desire for deeper connections with the EU fueled protests in 2014, which finally escalated into a full-fledged crisis with Russia.

The meetings also come at a critical moment in Moldova, as the US, UK, and Canada have warned of a Russian “plot” to influence the country’s presidential elections in October.

Moldova’s pro-Western authorities, sandwiched between war-torn Ukraine and EU member Romania, routinely accuse the Kremlin of meddling in its domestic affairs.

President Maia Sandu has accused Moscow, which has troops stationed in Moldova’s breakaway territory, of attempting to undermine the country ahead of the referendum.

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