European Union leaders on Thursday endorsed Ukraine’s bid for membership, launching the beleaguered nation on a year-long path to cementing a closer relationship with the West as it tries to distance themselves from their Russian invaders.
“Historic agreement, historic decision,” European Council President Charles Michel tweeted after the decision was announced on the first day of a summit of EU leaders in Belgium.
Ukraine has already implemented around 70% of EU rules, norms and standards, EU officials said. But they warned the country still needed political and economic reform, pointing to corruption. EU candidate status does not guarantee Ukraine membership and does not provide the military security offered by NATO membership. Still, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was delighted.
“Sincerely welcome EU leaders’ decision to #EUCO to grant candidate status,” he tweeted. “It’s a unique and historic moment.”
The EU has also granted candidate status to Moldova, a small non-NATO country that borders Ukraine.
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►The United States will send an additional $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including more medium-range rocket systems, officials said Thursday.
►Nike has announced that it will completely shut down operations in Russia after initially suspending company-owned operations three months ago. “Our priority is to ensure that we fully support our employees as we responsibly scale back our operations over the coming months,” the company said.
►Germany activated the second phase of its three-stage contingency plan for natural gas supply on Thursday, warning that winter energy supplies are of concern due to dwindling deliveries from Russia.
Russia’s war in Ukraine enters new phase
After its early military humiliation, Russia has regrouped in Ukraine and focused its anger in the east with relentless bombardment – giving Moscow momentum as the war enters a dark new phase.
With its vast supply of artillery, armor and troops, Russia now has an advantage, experts say. Fighting in Ukraine has shifted to the eastern part of the country, its mineral-rich industrial heartland. Russian-backed separatists have been fighting for control of the region, known as Donbass, since 2014.
“About 20% of Ukrainian territory has been de facto annexed,” said Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They replaced the currency with the ruble in many areas, replaced the curriculum, including Russian history. The handpicked local authorities are Russian.”
But Ukraine still holds powerful advantages, including a fierce will to fight and new Western weapons.
The direction of the conflict will likely become clearer over the summer, when Russia is likely to try to consolidate its gains in the Donbass region. However, experts say local resistance, the steady flow of Western weapons and Russian incompetence suggest they will struggle to hold their ground.
Read the main takeaways on the current state of the war here.
-Tom Vanden Brook
Russian forces are advancing and may soon experience a ‘tactical victory’
Russian forces overwhelmed two more villages in eastern Ukraine on Thursday and closed in on the town of Lysychansk amid a slow but systematic advance through Ukraine’s industrial heartland.
Lysychansk and small areas of sister city Severodonetsk represent the final hurdle in Russia’s quest to control the Luhansk region. The fall of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka comes a day after Russia invaded the villages of Pidlisne and Myrna Dolyna.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, acknowledged that “the threat of a Russian tactical victory (in the region) is there, but they haven’t done it yet.”
The regions of Lugansk and Donetsk form the Donbass region, seat of the Russian separatist “republic”. After its failure to take the capital of Kyiv at the start of the war, Russia made no secret of its redirected efforts to control Donbass.
Ukraine: US missile systems promise ‘summer will be hot’ for Russians
US High Mobility Anti-Missile Artillery Systems (HIMARS) have arrived in Ukraine, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said. The Ukrainian army has already undergone special weapons training in Europe, he said.
The United States has provided munitions capable of hitting targets more than 40 miles away – valuable, but not the longer-range missiles sought by Ukraine that could reach nearly 200 miles.
“Thanks to my colleague and friend @SecDef Lloyd J. Austin III for these powerful tools!” Reznikov said on Twitter. “The summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. And the last for some of them.”
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas says not to sleep on Russia
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has said the West should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, saying Moscow is in it for the long haul as the war enters its fifth month.
Kallas said Europe should ensure that those who commit war crimes and attempted genocide are prosecuted, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin escaped sanctions for annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and supporting a insurgency in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine that killed more than 14,000 people even before this year’s war. began.
“I heard that, you know, there’s no longer a threat because they’ve worn themselves out. No, they didn’t,” she said of the Russian army, which failed to take Kyiv at the start of the war and is now concentrating its firepower in the east. .
Contributor: The Associated Press