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European leaders are set to grant Ukraine candidate status, in a landmark decision that opens the door to EU membership for the war-torn country and deals a blow to Vladimir Putin.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status later on Thursday, nearly four months after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy launched his country’s bid to join the bloc at the start of the invasion Russian.

The transition from candidate to candidate usually takes years, but the EU has dramatically accelerated the process, amid outrage over the brutality of the unprovoked Russian attack, and to show solidarity with defenders of the ‘Ukraine.

“Ukraine is going through hell for one simple reason: its desire to join the EU,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on the eve of the summit. Last week, the committee called on EU leaders to grant candidate status to Ukraine. “Our opinion recognizes the immense progress that [Ukrainian] democracy has achieved since the Maidan protests of 2014,” Von der Leyen said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine: latest developments

Welcoming the expected positive decision, Zelenskiy said: “It’s like stepping into the light from the dark.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said candidate status would “draw a line under decades of ambiguity and etch it: Ukraine is Europe, not part of the ‘Russian world'”.

Speaking about the decision on candidate status, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the EU Vsevolod Chentsov said earlier this week that the EU had advanced at “lightning speed” by its standards. .

“We need this clarity [on EU membership] to support the Ukrainian army, Ukrainian society, morally, psychologically, and to have a clear idea and understanding of the direction of the movement for Ukraine,” he said.

Ukraine has been seeking EU membership since the 2004 “Orange Revolution” and more specifically since the Maidan protests of 2013-2014, when pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after refusing to sign a association agreement with the bloc. But before the war, joining the EU was not an option for the country of 41 million people plagued by corruption.

When Zelenskiy announced Ukraine’s application for EU membership, many Western European countries were skeptical. Senior officials counted 10 member states that opposed candidate status for Ukraine, but the mood changed as leaders feared they were on the wrong side of history.

EU capitals also know that accession negotiations will take many years. The process may be reversed if a future Kyiv government fails to implement rule of law reforms and bring its economy in line with EU standards.

A draft copy of the summit’s conclusions seen by the Guardian says that a candidate country’s progress will depend on “its own merit”, but also “on the EU’s ability to absorb new members”.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the EU needed to “reform its internal procedures” to prepare for new members, calling for greater use of qualified majority voting in areas such as foreign policy, to put an end to a country blocking a decision.

France is one of many countries that oppose the abandonment of its right to veto foreign policy decisions.

EU leaders are also expected to grant EU candidate status to Moldova, the former Soviet country of 3.5 million people that has seen rising tensions since the Russian invasion of its neighbour. Georgia should be granted a “European perspective”, one rung on the ladder below candidate status. Along with Moldova, Georgia applied for EU membership shortly after the Russian invasion, but Brussels is concerned about Tbilisi’s backsliding on the rule of law and freedom of the press.

theguardian Gt

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