EU-Ukraine Wartime Summit to Deliver on Some Issues, Disappoint on Others

Ukrainian State Emergency Service firefighters put out a fire after Russian shelling hit a shopping center in Kherson, Ukraine, early Friday. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)

KYIV (Reuters) – European Union leaders will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday, bringing the promise of new sanctions against Russia but likely dashing Ukraine’s hope for swift EU membership.

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 neighbor 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 Zelensky on Friday.

Zelensky 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 his government’s demands.

“We reached a very important mutual understanding,” Zelensky said of Thursday’s talks. “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 declines to offer a fast track to membership while Ukraine is at war.

EU officials have listed multiple entry requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws. The process is likely to take years.

“Some may want to speculate about the end game but the simple truth is that we are not there yet,” an EU official said.

The last country to have joined the EU was Croatia in 2013, a decade after formally applying.

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

EU officials said subjects discussed on Thursday included more arms, money and energy support for Ukraine, better access for its products in the EU market, tightened sanctions on Moscow, and efforts to prosecute Russian war crimes.

The German government has approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from stocks and is in talks on purchasing back 15 Gepard tanks from Qatar to send there, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported on Friday, citing government sources.

The Leopard 1s are not as advanced as Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged last week, but could be delivered sooner.

The EU has demanded more anticorruption measures from Ukraine, which is perceived as having an endemic state of graft, saying it must build a credible track record.

To that end, Zelenskiy has announced dismissals and investigations of some officials the past two weeks, pointedly saying that the Defense Ministry needs to be clean.

Authorities were investigating senior military officials in two 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 defense officials had been arrested, the State Bureau of Investigation said.

This week, the authorities raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s most prominent billionaires and a former interior minister, and announced an investigation into what they called a billion-dollar fraud at the biggest oil and refinery companies.

The EU-Ukraine summit coincides with an intensification of Russian pressure on Ukrainian forces in eastern battlegrounds and also in the northeast and south.

Ukraine says Moscow is sending thousands of soldiers and mercenaries to their deaths in human wave attacks for small gains, to appease political masters.

“They bring in men from their draft and try systematically to find places to break through our defenses,” Serhiy Cherevatiy, a spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces eastern front, told Ukrainian radio NV. “The aim is to fulfil the goal of the leadership to take control of all of Donetsk region. But this plan has been disrupted now for several months running.”

Moscow says one of its main objectives in Ukraine is securing the rest of Donetsk Province, one of four it unilaterally annexed in September. Its main focus has been on the Donetsk city of Bakhmut, where its forces have claimed incremental gains over the past week.

Asked if there was any sign Ukraine was preparing to withdraw from Bakhmut, a Belarusian volunteer fighting for Ukraine inside the city said there was no sign yet that Ukrainian forces were planning to pull out.

“For the moment it’s the opposite, the positions are being reinforced where the Russians are trying to cut us off. But everything hinges on how the situation develops. We’re holding for now.”

Reuters could not independently verify the situation there.

In Washington, CIA Director William Burns said battlefield developments in the next six months would be “absolutely crucial” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not serious about negotiations.

Russian forces made two strikes on the town of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, damaging buildings and causing some civilian casualties, the Ukrainian military said late on Thursday. A Russian missile hit an apartment block in the town on Wednesday, killing three people.

Ukrainian aircraft launched four raids on concentrations of Russian troops and one command post, it said.

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

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