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BRUSSELS — The European Union has formally agreed to take a “historic” step of making Ukraine and Moldova candidates for EU membership amid the war in Ukraine and bitter denunciations of Moscow of the intentions of both countries.

President of the European Council Charles Michel announced the decision on June 23 at a summit in Brussels, calling it a historic moment.

“Today marks a crucial step on your path to the EU,” Michel said. “Our future is together.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the move one of the most important for Ukraine in its 30 years of independence.

“I believe this decision is not just for Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said in a video address to the council. “It is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that can be taken at this time under such difficult conditions, as the Russian war tests our ability to preserve freedom and unity.”

He said that Ukraine is capable of becoming a full member of the European Union.

“I believe that the flag of the European Union will be in every Ukrainian city that we have not yet liberated from the occupation of the Russian Federation,” he said. “The Ukrainian and European flags will be together even when we rebuild our state together after this war.”

Pro-Western Moldovan President Maia Sandu said the country is “on the road to the EU, which will bring Moldovans more prosperity, more opportunities and more order in their country”.

She acknowledged that Moldova had “a difficult road ahead”, but said that Moldovans were ready to “walk together to ensure a better future for citizens”.

Georgia, which also applied for EU membership earlier this year, has been recognized as a “prospective” member, Michel said on Twitter. The EU is “ready to grant candidate status as soon as the set priorities are met”, Michel said.

This step sets in motion the complex process of EU membership, which Ukraine has been earnestly seeking since applying for it less than a week after the February 24 invasion of Moscow. The war has added urgency to Ukraine’s cause, prompting the unusually quick decision to grant candidate status.

“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 reporters.

“I am deeply convinced that the decision we have taken today strengthens us all. It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the face of Russian aggression,” she said, adding that she ” once again shows the world that the European Union is united and strong in the face of external threats.”

The candidacy of Ukraine and Moldova to join the EU was at the top of the agenda of the summit.

“The European Council recognizes the European perspective of Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia. The future of these countries and their citizens lies in the European Union”, the last draft of the final declaration of the summit , which RFE /RL saw, says.

“Each country’s progress towards the European Union will depend on its own merit in meeting the Copenhagen criteriataking into account the capacity of the EU to absorb new members,” he adds.

The EU body’s unprecedented move comes as Kyiv wages a devastating war against Russia, which launched an unprovoked invasion of its neighbor in February that killed tens of thousands of people and caused massive material destruction.

Michel had urged the bloc’s leaders to take the “historic” decision to grant candidate status to war-torn Ukraine and its neighbor Moldova.

“It is a decisive moment for the European Union, it is also a geopolitical choice that we are going to make today. And I am convinced that today we will grant candidate status to Ukraine and to Moldova,” he told reporters in Brussels. Summit.

EU leaders will also aim to keep pressure on Russia at the summit by pledging to continue work on sanctions, including a possible decision to mint gold among assets likely to be targeted by future measures.

The final draft also reiterates the bloc’s call for investigations into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine and says the bloc remains “strongly committed” to providing additional military support to Ukraine and to “working expeditiously” to increasing this support.

“International humanitarian law, including on the treatment of prisoners of war, must be respected. Ukrainians, especially children, who have been forcibly returned to Russia must be immediately allowed to return safely,” the document said.

“Russia, Belarus and all those responsible for war crimes and other most serious crimes will be held accountable for their actions, in accordance with international law.”

Before the start of the main summit on the afternoon of June 23, EU officials held a summit with Western Balkan leaders where they affirmed their commitment to admitting countries from the region and called “to speeding up the accession process”.

Bulgaria, an EU and NATO member, opposed Albania and North Macedonia joining the bloc due to historical, linguistic and cultural differences.

On June 23, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called the blocking of the accession process for Albania and North Macedonia a “shame”.

“It’s a shame that a NATO country, Bulgaria, kidnaps two other NATO countries, Albania and North Macedonia, in the middle of a hot war in the backyard of Europe with 26 other countries standing still in a chilling display of helplessness,” Rama said.

“It’s good to give [Ukraine] candidate status, but I hope the Ukrainian people will not have many illusions about this,” Rama said.

With reports from Reuters and dpa

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