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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already resulted in proposals to expand NATO. Now, in a move to counter Russian threats, the European Union might also add Ukraine, Moldova and, eventually, Georgia, three former Soviet republics where Russian President Vladimir Putin has long sought to increase his political and military influence.
The European Commission’s press release on the invitations included a litany of Russian war crimes and human rights violations, from imprisoning civilians to weaponizing food exports.
“There can be no better sign of hope for the citizens of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in these troubled times,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Radio Free Europe and other news outlets after announcing the invitations. “I am deeply convinced that our decision …strengthens us all. It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia in the face of Russian aggression.”
The development is a success for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who put European leaders in a geopolitical pickle when he applied for EU membership, forcing them to either accept or reject the pleas of a war-torn nation to join the world’s largest bloc of industrialized democracies, Foreign Policy magazine reported.
Speaking on Ukrainian television after the announcement, Zelenskyy triumphantly said the invitation was an example of Ukrainians winning their struggle for freedom and self-determination, Voice of America added.
Writing in the National Interest, Atlantic Council Nonresident Fellow Mark Temnycky also noted that the move illustrates how Western European leaders have a more diverse notion of what Europe represents as the bloc expands into more former Communist, Orthodox Christian countries.
Russian officials said the EU’s move reflects how the bloc is hostile to Russia’s interests, Reuters reported. They predicted more, not less, geopolitical instability in Eastern Europe as the EU bumps up against Russia’s borders.
Ascension into the EU can take years, however, highlighting how the Russians might be exaggerating their opposition and how Ukraine, Moldova and especially Georgia’s politics and economies are vastly different than those in Western Europe, Deutsche Welle wrote. EU leaders told Georgia, for example, that they would have to curb corruption before they could be formally invited. Oligarchs control much of the country’s political system, overseeing “fraud, intimidation, vote-buying, cronyism and police harassment,” according to Euronews.
Frederick Kempe, president of the Atlantic Council, warned in a CNBC editorial that fast-changing conditions could also short-circuit Ukraine and Moldova’s applications.
For now, however, people are celebrating. Hopefully, their joy is not misplaced.