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EU-Ukraine wartime summit to deliver on some issues, disappoint on others


Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attend an EU summit, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 2, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

European Union leaders will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Friday, bringing the promise of new sanctions against Russia but disappointing Ukraine’s hope for swift membership to the EU.

The head of the group’s executive commission, Ursula von der Leyen, arrived in Kyiv by train on Thursday, a symbolic journey to demonstrate support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of its neighbour approaches.

Senior members of the EU’s executive met their counterparts in the Ukrainian government and von der Leyen and the chairman of the 27 EU national leaders, Charles Michel, will convene talks with Zelenskiy on Friday.

Zelenskiy called for more punitive measures against Russia by the European Union, but new sanctions the bloc is preparing for the anniversary are set to fall short of the Kyiv government’s demands.

“Today … we reached a very important mutual understanding,” Zelenskiy said in his Thursday night video address. “That only together – a strong Ukraine and a strong European Union – can we defend the life that we value, and through our further integration, provide energy and motivation for our people to fight on regardless of obstacles and threats.”

While the EU backs Ukraine and supports democratic and economic reforms there, it is not ready to admit a country at war and in any case, the process takes years. The last country to have joined the EU was Croatia in 2013, a decade after formally applying. Ukraine’s neighbour Poland took 20 years until joining in 2004.

Ukraine applied to join shortly after the invasion and in June received formal candidate status from the EU.

The United States and its Western allies stepped up pledges to deliver more weapons to Ukraine in January.

EU officials said talks included discussion of more arms and money for Ukraine as well as more access for Ukrainian products to the EU market, helping Kyiv cover energy needs, sanctions on Russia, prosecuting Russia’s leadership for the war and extending an EU no-roaming mobile calls zone to Ukraine.

The EU has demanded more anti-corruption measures from Ukraine, which is perceived as having endemic state graft, saying it must build a credible track record over time.

To that end Zelenskiy this year already has announced investigations and dismissals of some officials, pointedly saying during the last week that the defence ministry needs to be clean.

Authorities were investigating senior military officials in two separate cases of suspected corruption, officials said on Thursday. Separately, a “criminal group” suspected of embezzling state funds by selling overpriced eggs and other foodstuffs to defence officials had been arrested, the State Bureau of Investigation said.

The EU-Ukraine summit coincides with an intensification of Russian pressure on Ukrainian forces in eastern battlegrounds but also in the northeast and south. The refrain from Ukraine officials and military analysts is that the Russians are exploiting the main resource they have – superiority in manpower.

Russian forces made two strikes on the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk region – where an apartment block was hit on Wednesday, killing three people, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on Thursday night.

“As a result, 13 two-storey buildings and three four-storey buildings were damaged as well as a children’s clinic, a school and garages and vehicles. There were civilian casualties.”

Ukrainian aircraft launched four air raids on areas of concentration of Russian troops and one command post, the statement said. One drone was destroyed, it said.

Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of war crimes and targeting civilians, charges Russia rejects.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered what he called a “special military operation” to protect Russian security. The war has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble.

More recently Russia has characterized the conflict as confronting what it says is an aggressive and expansionist U.S.-led NATO military alliance. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory.