Ukraine could become a member of the European Union after the European Commission proposed it as a candidate, the first step on a long road to accession for the war-torn country.
Ukraine has applied to join the bloc less than a week after Russia invaded the country for the first time.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the news from Brussels as a “big step forward”.
On Thursday, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania visited Ukraine and pledged to support Kyiv to become an official candidate.
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Zelenskyy said Ukraine has “powerful” support from these countries.
“It was important for me to hear another fundamental thing from the leaders – they agree that the end of the war in Ukraine and peace must be determined exactly as Ukraine sees them,” Zelenskyy said.
“As our people see them.”
The move is unlikely to go down well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who does not want Ukraine to have a strong relationship with the West.
The recommendation will now be discussed by the leaders of the 27 EU member states at a summit next week in Brussels. All members must agree to any new country joining, along with the pace of negotiations and the terms on which it will join.
“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” said commission chair Ursula von der Leyen.
“We want them to live with us, the European dream.”
However, the decision was based on the understanding that Ukraine had carried out a series of reforms, added von der Leyen.
“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards,” she said.
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Candidate status has also been recommended for Moldova, while things remain a little more complicated for Georgia, which has also applied for membership.
Von der Leyen said that while Georgia has a strong candidate, it has not yet united politically.
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There is a long way to go before Ukraine ends up as a member of the European Union, but this is a significant first step along the way.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, dressed in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, was careful not to adopt a triumphalist tone or present it as an act of piety.
His analysis of Ukraine’s strengths had everything to do with the country’s political and economic structures and its ambitions for the future.
So we talked about the work that Ukraine has started but still needs to do, to enforce the rule of law, strengthen its anti-corruption procedures and limit the powers of the oligarchs.
Von der Leyen’s takeaway, however, was that progress so far has been good, which is why she said Ukraine deserved to be promoted to official candidate, along with Moldova.
This does not mean that Ukraine is about to join the ranks of EU member states, because the subsequent road to membership could be a long one. Turkey was declared an official candidate at the end of the last century, but it has no chance of joining the bloc in the near future.
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