Kyiv: Ukraine will be accepted as a candidate to join the European Union on Thursday in a move that will lift the country’s morale as the battle with Russian forces in two eastern cities reached what one official called a “fierce climax”.
Although the approval of the Kyiv government’s request by European Union leaders meeting in Brussels is just the beginning of what will be over many years ahead, it signals a huge geopolitical shift that will upset Russia as it struggles to impose its will on Ukraine.
Friday marks four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” necessitated in part by Western encroachment on what Russia sees as its sphere of influence.
The conflict, which the West considers an unjustified war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands, displaced millions, and destroyed cities in addition to its repercussions in most parts of the world as food and energy exports have been curtailed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged his country’s allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.
“We must liberate our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, more quickly,” Zelensky said in a video address on Thursday.
He said that Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks were aimed at destroying the entire Donbass region.
Russia focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian resistance thwarted its advance on the capital, Kyiv, in the early stages of the conflict.
The war of attrition in the Donbass – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – is most significant in the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk, which lie on both sides of the Seversky Donets River in Luhansk Province.
Oleksiy Aristovich, Zelensky’s advisor, said the battle there “enters some kind of frightening climax.”
Luhansk Province Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Thursday that Ukrainian forces are defending Severodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovsherovka, but that Russian forces have captured Loskotivka and Ray Oleksandrivka in the south.
Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Severodonetsk as Ukraine and Russia squabble over who controls the bombed city.
Moscow says that Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded and surrounded. But Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that Russian forces were not in full control of Severodonetsk.
Gaidai said that all of Lysychansk was within reach of Russian fire.
“In order to avoid encirclement, our command can order the forces to retreat to new positions. There may be a regrouping after last night,” he said.
Russia-backed separatists said Lysichansk was now besieged and cut off from supplies after seizing a road linking the city with the town of Seversk, the TASS news agency quoted Russia-backed separatists as saying.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the news.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said some Ukrainian units likely withdrew to avoid being encircled.
“Russian forces are putting the Lysekhansk-Severodonetsk enclave under increasing pressure with this advancing advance … But their efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to control western Donetsk Oblast are still stalled,” the ministry said on Twitter.
On the march
Zelensky said he spoke to 11 EU leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s candidacy and would make more calls on Thursday.
“History is on its way,” said EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen, speaking ahead of the two-day EU summit in Brussels.
“I’m not just talking about Putin’s war of aggression. I’m talking about the winds of change blowing once again across our continent,” she added.
In addition to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are also seeking to join the European Union in what would be the most ambitious expansion since the East European countries were welcomed after the Cold War.
Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet sister republic, and Western groupings such as the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the European Union. But EU leaders say the bloc should make a gesture acknowledging Ukraine’s sacrifice.