World, Europe

Ukraine granted 'candidate' status amid tough EU journey

Letter of application was submitted just days after Russia launched war on Ukraine

Ali Cura   | 24.06.2022
Ukraine granted 'candidate' status amid tough EU journey

KYIV, Ukraine

Striving for close ties with the EU since the Soviet Union's dissolution, Ukraine has now made significant progress with its "candidate" status granted on Thursday.

Ukraine filed its bid to join the European bloc just four days after Russian forces attacked the country on Feb. 24. For Kyiv, "return to Europe" has been a primary strategic goal since independence.

Relations with the EU started for Ukraine in 1994 when the two sides reached a deal of cooperation and partnership in the fields of politics, the economy, and culture, making Ukraine the first former-Soviet country to underwrite such a document. It went into effect in 1998.

From 1994 to 2008, this accord laid the legal foundation for bilateral ties and marked the beginning of cooperation in a wide range of areas. Though Ukraine now has its eyes set on accession, the EU opted to tread lightly and bide its time.

Ties between the two sides further deepened thanks to the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative, launched in 2009 with the main goals of promoting democracy, establishing free trade areas, and visa liberalization.

Valuing EU integration, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych endeavored to implement the protocols and agreements required to join the bloc. In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal in 2011, he said Ukraine sought to unite with Europe within a year and that his country's future depended on close ties and membership to the EU.

On Nov. 21, 2013, the Ukrainian government suspended its partnership process with the EU, citing possible shortcomings on Ukraine's commercial ties with Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

This prompted a crisis in the country and pro-EU demonstrators gathered in what became known as the Maidan uprising, or Euromaidan. As the protests escalated in the following days, the country went into a turmoil.

The February 2014 Maidan Revolution in Ukraine led to former President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country and a pro-Western government to come to power.

That was followed by Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimea region and separatists' declarations of independence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Donbas in eastern Ukraine, both of which have large ethnic Russian populations. In the clashes that followed, more than 14,000 people lost their lives.

Despite this, EU supporters eventually prevailed in Kyiv as pro-EU figures came into government with Yanukovych gone. Arseniy Yatsenyuk founded the interim government and Petro Poroshenko was elected president.

The EU partnership became Ukraine's priority and the two sides struck a deal on March 21, 2014, as well as a separate part of the accord on finances signed on June 27, 2014. The deal, under which a free trade area would be established between them was ratified by the parliaments of Ukraine and Europe in September.

Moscow repeatedly came out against this agreement, which it said threatened its national interests. However, it was unable to block it, as the deal went into effect as of Jan. 1, 2016, a major step forward for Ukrainian integration into the EU.

The country was projected to fully adapt to EU goals within 10 years.

While Ukraine-EU ties were growing stronger, especially after the election of sitting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2019, Russia launched a "special military operation" into Ukraine regions on Feb. 24.

In response, Zelenskyy signed the official Ukrainian letter of application to the EU on Feb. 28, at a time when the Russian forces were advancing towards the capital, Kyiv. EU Commission head Ursula Von Der Leyen welcomed a request for the candidacy status of both Ukraine and Moldova on June 17.

The EU leaders' summit on June 23 granted this request, in what EU Council head Charles Michel said was a "Historic agreement. Historic decision. Today, we have decided to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova."

*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas

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