The European Union’s top officials arrived in Kyiv on Feb. 2, to meet their Ukrainian counterparts ahead of a historic wartime summit taking place nearly a year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Upon arrival in the morning, the delegation of more than a dozen members from the EU’s executive branch held a meeting with the Ukrainian government.
The EU council announced that it would provide Ukraine with another 500 million euros ($542 million) for the seventh tranche of military aid, along with an additional 45 million euros ($49 million) for the training of Ukrainian troops.
EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell, who is to attend the summit with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel, announced that the bloc would double the number of Ukrainian soldiers to be trained this year to 30,000.
Borrell also said the EU would provide 25 million euros ($27.5 million) to help Ukraine demine liberated areas. Ukraine is said to be the most mined country in the world.
"Europe stood united with Ukraine from day one. And will still stand with you to win and rebuild," Borrell said.
Von der Leyen, visiting Kyiv for the fourth time since the February invasion, said the EU wants the fresh sanctions against Russia to be ready by Feb. 24 – on the all-out war’s first anniversary. She said the 10th round of sanctions aims to inflict more pain on Russian petroleum products, and the price cap would be coordinated with the G7.
The EU has gradually stepped up its military assistance for Ukraine over the course of Russia’s nearly year-long full-scale invasion.
Last month, many EU member states made historic promises on military aid for Ukraine, vowing to send Western-made tanks for the first time. Borrel said that the bloc has allocated about 50 billion euros in aid for the country – a fifth of which was in the military sector.
“We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever,” von der Leyen said upon her arrival.
However, Ukraine’s hopes of joining the EU soon are set to be dashed at the long-anticipated EU-Ukraine Summit on Feb. 3.
Russia continues to wage its deadly assaults in the east and south of the country, and the EU has said that Ukraine needs to establish a credible track record to curb corruption in the country. Ukraine is also behind on judicial reforms, a deep-rooted issue that remains in the shadow of the war.
Ukraine’s EU aspirations
While the EU has admired Ukraine’s resistance against the brutal Russian invasion and praised its efforts to curb corruption in the country over the past few weeks, EU is unlikely to commit to Kyiv’s swift accession to the bloc, news outlet Euractiv reported.
The upcoming Feb. 3 EU-Ukraine Summit, the first of its kind to be held in an active war zone, is about “managing expectations” for Ukraine’s possible EU membership, and the member states have argued about the positive wording of the prospective when preparing the final draft of the summit communique, Euractiv reported, citing its unnamed sources.
Ukraine applied for EU membership in February 2022, a few days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion. It obtained its candidate status unusually early, in June, but EU officials have cast a long way for Ukraine to be admitted into the bloc. Among other countries, Turkey has been waiting in line since it got its candidacy in 1999.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned in May 2022 that it might be “decades” before Ukraine gets its long-dreamed EU accession.
Nevertheless, Ukraine remains optimistic. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal recently said that he expected Ukraine to join the EU “within two years.” Presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak predicted that it could happen almost immediately after the war in Ukraine ended.
The highly symbolic visit of senior EU members comes as Ukraine steps up its campaign of investigations and dismissals of its senior government officials in the wake of scandals, some of which are corruption-related.
Ukraine has long suffered from graft and the lack of judicial reforms, but it seeks to shed that reputation as a corrupt country.
Kyiv has pledged “zero tolerance” to corruption, showing its Western allies, who are sending billions of dollars of military and humanitarian aid, that it is tackling the endemic issue seriously.
On Feb. 1, law enforcement conducted several raids at the houses of high-profile figures, including the houses of ex-Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and of the notorious oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, sanctioned by the U.S. and reportedly stripped of Ukrainian citizenship.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) later said in a report that it uncovered the embezzlement of more than a billion dollars at two giant oil companies – Ukrnafta and Ukrtatnafta, which are associated with Kolomoisky.
Late on Feb. 1, President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in his evening address that “justice will be ensured,” after the largest wartime anti-corruption raid held on the eve of the EU delegation’s high-profile visit.
On Feb. 3, the 24th EU–Ukraine Summit will be held in central Kyiv, in a show of defiance against Moscow, which for years has sought to prevent Ukraine from deepening ties with the West.
The 23rd EU-Ukraine Summit took place in October 2021, a few months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.