By Tom Balmforth
KYIV -Over a dozen top European Union officials visited Kyiv on Thursday to promise military, financial and political aid and show support for Ukraine before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
But unwilling to admit a country at war, the EU is set to dash Ukraine’s hopes of being swiftly allowed membership, underlining the need for more anti-corruption measures.
“Good to be back in Kyiv, my 4th time since Russia’s invasion. This time, with my team of Commissioners,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter under a photo of her arriving at a Kyiv railway station.
Members of the EU’s executive European Commission were due to meet members of the government on Thursday. On Friday, and Charles Michel, chairman of the 27 EU national leaders, will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The first such gathering in Kyiv since the war began last Feb. 24 follows new Western pledges of arms deliveries to help Ukraine resist an expected new Russian offensive. Moscow has criticised the pledges, saying new weapon deliveries will escalate the conflict but not change its course.
EU officials said talks would include discussion of more arms and money for Ukraine as well as more access for Ukrainian products to the EU market, helping Kyiv cover energy needs, sanctions on Russia, prosecuting Russia’s leadership for the war and extending an EU no-roaming mobile calls zone to Ukraine.
“It is a very strong signal that we are in Kyiv during the war. It’s a signal to the Ukrainian people. It’s a signal to Russia. It’s a signal to the world,” said a senior EU official.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, announced a doubling of the number of Ukrainian troops to be trained by the EU to 30,000 this year and promised 25 million euros ($27.50 million) for demining areas recaptured by Ukraine.
“Europe stood united with Ukraine from day one. And will still stand with you to win and rebuild,” Borrell, who said he had met Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, wrote on Twitter.
The EU’s top officials for migration, agriculture, economy and justice were also in the Ukrainian capital.
The wealthy bloc has already earmarked almost 60 billion euros in aid to Ukraine, including nearly 12 billion euros of military support and 18 billion euros to help run the country this year, but refuses to offer a fast track to membership.
“Some may want to speculate about the end game but the simple truth is that we are not there yet,” an EU official said.
EU officials have listed multiple entry requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws.
The EU is set to underline its commitment to supporting Ukraine’s “further European integration” after giving it membership candidate status last June and will decide on further steps once all conditions are “fully met”, according to a draft joint statement seen by Reuters.
Kyiv has cracked down on high-level corruption in recent days but the EU says Ukraine must build a credible track record over time to shed its reputation for endemic graft.
Ukraine’s calls for long-range rockets or fighter jets are set to be left unanswered by the EU this week, officials say, and it appears unlikely that looming new EU sanctions on Russia will meet expectations in Ukraine.
($1 = 0.9093 euros)