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Ukraine presses for EU membership at summit, conflict support

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By Reuters
Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia to press for EU membership at summit
Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia to press for EU membership at summit   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold

BRUSSELS -The leaders of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova lobbied the European Union at a summit on Wednesday to let them begin negotiations to join the bloc, but for now they are expected only to win reassurances of support against any possible Russian aggression.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron also met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the Brussels summit to seek an end to the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and to emphasise warnings of more EU sanctions on Russia if it invades.

“Any violation of territorial integrity will have a high price and we will speak with one voice here with our European partners and our transatlantic allies,” Scholz said in Berlin before leaving for his first summit in Brussels as chancellor, adding he still sought a “constructive dialogue” with Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry on Twitter urged the West and Ukraine to implement the peace deals of 2014 and 2015 that include prisoner exchanges, aid and the withdrawal of weapons.

Ukraine is currently the main flashpoint between Russia and the West. The United States says Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, possibly in preparation for an invasion. Moscow says its actions are purely defensive.

The one-day ‘Eastern Partnership’ summit in Brussels highlights the limited success of the EU’s approach to the six ex-Soviet republics it embraces, all of them in what Russia considers its backyard where it has security interests.

Of the six, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are all locked in territorial disputes with Moscow. The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are attending the summit but are not seeking EU membership. Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko, hit by Western sanctions over his human rights record, stayed away.

“Our goal is full membership in the European Union,” Zelenskiy said after meeting EU summit chair Charles Michel.

Excerpts of a draft final summit statement, seen by Reuters and due to be published later on Wednesday, show that the EU will “acknowledge the European aspirations and the European choice” of the five countries concerned.

‘SOVEREIGN RIGHT

Under the Eastern Partnership initiative, the EU is offering money, technical assistance and free trade but not membership. But joining the EU remains an attractive goal, and on Wednesday the daughter of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said she thought even Russia itself would one day become a member.

“Russia is a part of Europe and we strive to become a part of it (the EU),” Daria Navalnaya told the European Parliament in Strasbourg as she accepted the bloc’s top human rights ‘Sakharov’ prize on her father’s behalf.

Speaking at NATO headquarters, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili urged the West also to allow his country into the Atlantic alliance, a goal sought by Ukraine too.

“Each and every state has their sovereign right to choose their own foreign policy course,” Garibashvili told reporters, in a veiled reference to what the countries say are Russian efforts to stymie their Western orientation.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu told Reuters on Tuesday her country aspires to join the EU and has told Russia.