Ukraine expects the support of the entire EU for the candidacy to join the bloc

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – A Ukraine official in charge of pushing the country to join the European Union said Wednesday that he is “100%” sure that all 27 EU countries will approve Ukraine’s EU candidacy. at a summit this week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed similar optimism, calling it an “important moment” for Ukraine. Ukraine’s membership bid is the top business order for EU leaders meeting in Brussels.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna said the decision could come immediately on Thursday, when the leaders ’summit begins.

Stefanishyna said the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark were hesitant about starting accession talks with Ukraine as it fought the Russian invasion but now supported it. Asked how confident he was that Ukraine would be accepted as an EU candidate, he said: “The day before the summit starts, I can say 100%.”

The EU executive arm put the weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week. Stefanishyna described the European Commission’s endorsement as “a game-changer” that cut the ground from under “the legs of those most skeptical.”

EU candidate status, which will only be granted if the existing member countries agree to unite, is the first step towards membership. It does not provide any security guarantee or automatic right to join the bloc.

Ukraine’s full membership will depend on whether the war-torn country satisfies the political and economic situation. Potential newcomers must show that they have met the standards of democratic principles and must absorb 80,000 pages of rules covering everything from trade and immigration to fertilizers and the rule of law. .

Stefanishyna told the AP that she thinks Ukraine will be an EU member within years, not the decades predicted by some European officials.

“We are already very united in the European Union,” he said. “We want to be a strong and competitive member state, so it can take from two to 10 years.”

To help candidates, the block can provide technical and financial assistance. European officials say Ukraine has already implemented about 70% of EU rules, ethics and standards, but also pointed to corruption and the need for in -depth political and economic reforms.

In a virtual speech to Canadian university students on Wednesday, Zelenskyy described the Brussels summit as “two decisive days” that, like Stefanishyna, he thinks will result in the approval of the EU’s candidacy. Ukraine.

“That was a very important time for us. For some people on my team it’s like going to light out of darkness, ”the president of Ukraine said.“ In terms of our army and society, it’s a great motivator, a great cause of encouragement for the unity and victory of the people of Ukraine. “

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he spoke to Zelenskyy on Wednesday and assured him that Belgium would support the status of Ukraine’s candidate.

“A lot of efforts are needed, especially in the fight against corruption and the establishment of an effective rule of law,” De Cross said. “But I am convinced that it is really the (post-war) reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide opportunities to take important steps forward.”

In other developments:

– Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said a Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier who accompanied him appeared to have been “coldly killed” in the first weeks of the Ukraine war as they searched the Russian -occupied forest for a missing camera drone. The group sent investigators into the woods north of the capital, Kyiv, where the bodies of Maks Levin and serviceman Oleksiy Chernyshov were found on April 1. The group said its team counted 14 holes in bullets of the burning hulk in the couple’s car and saw trash left by Russian soldiers.

—Russian forces have seized three villages in Ukraine’s fiercely hostile eastern region, a local official said. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the villages are a few miles from the town of Lysychansk, the last town in his province to be completely under Ukrainian control. The Russians also captured a strategic coal village, Toshkivka, enabling them to intensify attacks, according to Haidai.

—The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian forces killed up to 500 Ukrainian soldiers in high-precision strikes on Tuesday against a shipbuilding plant in Mykolaiv. The ministry also said Ukrainian forces evacuated 30 wounded and eight dead American and British foreign fighters from near Mykolaivka, in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed such claims; instead, they reported further Russian attacks on Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv. Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzianyk said that in some wars, for every artillery shell of Ukrainian forces, the Russian army fires at least six.

—Russian officials said a drone strike caused a fire at an oil refinery plant in southwestern Russia on Wednesday. The fire engulfed a piece of machinery at the Novoshakhtinsk plant in the Rostov-on-Don region. Authorities said several firefighters were able to quickly control the fire and no one was injured. The plant said in a statement that the fire was caused by a strike carried out by two drones, describing it as a “terrorist” act. Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the strike.

—Turkish defense ministry said on Wednesday that a Turkish ship was allowed to leave the Russian-occupied Azov Sea port of Mariupol after talks between Turkish and Russian defense ministry officials. A ministry statement said the Turkish freighter, Azov Concord, was the first foreign ship allowed to leave Mariupol. The ministry did not say what the shipment was carrying. The war halted the critical export of grain by sea. Military delegations from Turkey and Russia met in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss a possible deal for shipping grain to Ukraine via the Black Sea.

—French armed forces are conducting a surprise military exercise in Estonia, deploying more than 100 paratroopers in the Baltic country neighboring Russia, the French defense ministry said Wednesday. The airborne operation, dubbed “Thunder Lynx,” enabled, at short notice, to drop about 100 French paratroopers “in an area secured by Estonian soldiers,” the statement said. The exercise in Estonia, an ally of NATO, was implemented as an act of “strategic unity” amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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Sam Petrequin of Brussels, Hanna Arhirova of Kyiv and Rob Gillies of Toronto contributed.

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