The European Union rallies behind Ukraine. But fatigue is around the corner.

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Ukraine received a welcome diplomatic boost late last week. On Friday, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, published an opinion recommending that Ukraine (along with Moldova, its former small Soviet neighbour) be granted candidate status for European Union membership. . A list of prominent European leaders said the decision was necessary, primarily as a gesture of solidarity and recognition of Ukrainian courage and bravery on the battlefield in the face of the ongoing Russian invasion.

“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference on Friday, while sporting a yellow blazer over a blue blouse – colors of the flag. Ukrainian. “We want them to live…the European dream.”

The day before, the leaders of the three largest economies of the European Union traveled to Kyiv via an overnight train from Poland and also expressed their support for Ukraine’s possible accession to the European Union. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi appeared alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at a joint press conference.

“We are at a turning point in our history,” Draghi said, echoing rhetoric first popularized by Scholz. “Every day”, he added, “the Ukrainian people defend the values ​​of democracy and freedom which are the pillars of the European project, of our project”.

The war in Ukraine and a “turning point in history”

Entry into the continental bloc is not a fait accompli. First, all 27 EU member states must agree to grant candidate status to Ukraine. And then a tangled political and bureaucratic process awaits as the Kyiv government attempts to bring its institutions and regulations into line with the rest of the union. Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are the current official candidates to join the bloc.

Kyiv already has reasons for disappointment. He wanted expedited candidate status without conditions. “But the commission has listed six steps it wants Ukraine to take,” my colleagues reported. “Among them: put in place laws to ensure the selection of qualified judges and limit the influence of the oligarchs. He also called on Ukraine to improve its record of corruption investigations, prosecutions and convictions.

“Ukraine was not close before and it is not now,” said an EU diplomat, who spoke to my colleagues on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

Ukraine’s accession could take years, especially because the country is at war with Russia. And that might not happen at all, with the risk that future political developments in Kyiv and other European capitals will derail the process.

Turkey, for example, gained candidate status in 1999 and began membership talks in 2005. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s autocratic hijacking of the West, combined with hostility from parts of Europe membership of a major Muslim-majority nation — effectively froze the prospect of Turkey’s entry.

EU leaders happy to pose with Zelensky, hesitant on Ukraine membership

Ukraine does not face such civilizational angst — it has become a sort of common thread for European politicians and commentators, who see in its struggle a unifying and unifying moment for the geopolitical West. For weeks, Ukrainian officials and parliamentarians have made their case to governments across the continent on broader ideological grounds.

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a Ukrainian parliamentarian, told me last month that Ukraine’s membership of the European Union would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperialist ambitions, and force him to “understand that Ukraine is part of another civilisation”. .”

Ukrainian soldiers are “not fighting exclusively for their soil”, but in the hope of extending Europe’s liberal project to their country, she said. “The Ukrainians must receive a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.”

For now, however, the tunnel of war remains long, winding and dark. On Sunday, Zelensky returned from a visit to the front lines in the south of the country, where Russia is seeking to consolidate major territorial gains. “We won’t cede the south to anyone,” he said – partly a statement of defiance as over-armed Ukrainian fighters hold the line, but also an implied rejection of suggestions from some corners elsewhere that Kyiv might need to settle for territorial concessions.

His remarks also served as a reminder that the tide of battle is swinging ominously in the direction of the Kremlin in some parts of the country, with Russia likely bracing for new offensives in the coming weeks. During his second visit to Kyiv, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of “war fatigue” demoralizing the West as Russia “inches its way” into Ukraine.

Putin clarifies his imperial claims

The bravado of visiting European dignitaries belies a more fragile reality. European unity will be threatened by economic pressures; Russia’s recent decision to drastically cut gas deliveries to the continent has now warned analysts of a harsh and costly winter for much of Europe.

A poll released last week by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) revealed the emergence of two distinct political camps among the European public when it comes to opinions on the war in Ukraine. On the one hand, there is the “peace” camp, which seeks to end the war as soon as possible – “even if that means Ukraine has to make concessions”, ECFR noted. Then there is the “justice” camp, which believes that punishing Russia and restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity must take precedence over demands for peace.

Of the 10 countries studied, Italy stands out strongly in the first camp and Poland in the second. “There are potential divisions over the cost of living, refugees and nuclear escalation, but the big divide is between those who want to end the war as quickly as possible and those who want Russia punished. “ECFR Director Mark Leonard noted in a statement. declaration by e-mail. “If mishandled, the rift between the ‘peace camp’ and the ‘justice camp’ on Ukraine could be as damaging as that between creditors and debtors during the euro crisis.

For now, European leaders are advocating courage and resilience. “We must not relax our support for Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag over the weekend. “Although the costs are high, not only for military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices.”

Putin, however, may feel a vulnerability. “They think that the dominance of the West in world politics and the economy is constant and eternal,” he declared grandiosely during a conference in Saint Petersburg. “But nothing is forever.”

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