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Ukraine war latest: European Commission recommends Ukraine, Moldova begin EU accession talks

by The Kyiv Independent news desk November 9, 2023 12:16 AM 10 min read
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and President Volodymyr Zelensky give a joint press conference following their talks in Kyiv on Nov. 4, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)
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Key developments on Nov. 8:

  • European Commission recommends Ukraine, Moldova begin EU accession talks
  • US Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Kyiv, announces infrastructure advisor for Ukraine
  • Russian strike on Odesa Oblast port hits foreign cargo ship, kills 1
  • Investigators considering 4 theories relating to explosion that killed Zaluzhnyi's aide
  • Germany’s Rheinmetall to supply Ukraine with 100,000 mortar shells
  • Top Kherson collaborator Saldo sentenced to 15 years in jail in absentia.

Ukraine and Moldova received recommendations to begin formal negotiations on their accession to the European Union, and Georgia received a recommendation to get candidate status, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Nov. 8.

“Today is a historic day because today the Commission recommends that the council opens accession negotiations with Ukraine and with Moldova," von der Leyen said. "Ukraine has completed...well over 90% of the necessary steps that we set out last year in our report."

The talks should begin next year.

"Today, the history of Ukraine and the whole of Europe has taken the right step," said President Volodymyr Zelensky. "Ukrainians have always been and remain part of our common European family. Our country must be in the European Union."

Zelensky added that Ukraine expects a decision from the European Council in December.

Ukraine officially applied for EU membership in late February 2022, just following the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion.

The country was granted candidacy status in June and presented with seven criteria it needs to fulfill in order to begin the talks.

According to the report released by the European Commission on Nov. 8, Ukraine has fully implemented four of the seven criteria:

  • The adoption of legislation on a selection procedure of judges of the Constitutional Court in line with Venice Commission recommendations;
  • The completion of the integrity vetting of candidates for the High Council of Justice members and the creation of the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine;
  • The alignment of anti-money laundering legislation with the standards of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and approval of a strategic plan for reforming the entire law enforcement sector; and
  • The alignment of Ukraine's media legislation with the EU audio-visual media services directive.

The three remaining criteria — the fight against corruption, de-oligarchization, and the protection of national minorities — are not yet fully implemented, according to the European Commission. Nonetheless, significant progress has still been made.

Regarding corruption, the report noted that Ukraine has "further developed its track record" and is on track to double the number of indictments on corruption charges from previous years.

Anti-corruption agencies have continued to improve, but the report recommended that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) staff be increased and impediments to the effectiveness of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) be removed.

Ukraine has introduced systematic measures to curb the influence of oligarchs, the report said, including new legislation that tackles monopolization and mandated financial reporting on donations to political parties.

Minority protection has also improved, but there are still gaps when it comes to ensuring the linguistic autonomy of Ukraine's minorities, the report said. In order to fulfill this criteria, Ukraine should strengthen its language laws that protect minority rights in education and media.

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US Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Kyiv, announces infrastructure advisor for Ukraine

U.S. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg arrived in Kyiv for an official visit, the U.S. Transportation Department announced on Nov. 8.

"Our message today is clear: the United States supports Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink captioned a photo of his arrival on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The reason for the visit is "to deliver on a top ask to place an infrastructure advisor here," Buttigieg said in a separate post.

The Kyiv-based advisor will "provide technical assistance on project delivery as part of the country’s rebuilding efforts."

The Transportation Department named the advisor as Robert Mariner, who has "decades of transportation project experience" working for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.

Mariner has previously served as an advisor to the Transportation Counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, the Transportation Department said.

Mariner's posting is "one of countless ways the U.S. continues to stand with the people of Ukraine for the long haul and ensure its connection to the world," Buttigieg said.

U.S. Ambassador Bridget A. Brink with U.S. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Kyiv on Nov. 8, 2023. (Ambassador Bridget A. Brink / X)

After arriving in Kyiv, Buttigieg joined Brink on a visit to the Come Back Alive Foundation, an NGO that supports members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and spoke to veterans.

"While we salute those fighting on the front lines, we also recognize the important role veterans’ organizations are playing in Ukraine’s recovery," Brink said.

They then met with Buttigieg's Ukrainian counterpart, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

Kubrakov thanked Buttigieg and Brink "for an incredibly pleasant and productive meeting."

The three discussed how to boost Ukraine's economy through strengthening logistics routes by road, rail, and water, Kubrakov said.

The posting of a senior infrastructure advisor to Kyiv comes weeks after the arrival of Penny Pritzker, the U.S. Special Representative for Economic Recovery in Ukraine, on Oct. 16.

After talks with Pritzker, Kubrakov announced on Oct. 17 that the U.S. is to provide Ukraine with nearly $700 million in funds to improve and modernize the country's logistics and transport infrastructure.

The funds will be used to improve the conditions of Ukraine's railways, ports, checkpoints, and other transportation infrastructure.

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Russian strike on Odesa Oblast port hits foreign cargo ship, kills 1

A Russian missile struck a civilian ship in a port in Odesa Oblast, killing one person on board and injuring four others, the Southern Defense Forces reported on Nov. 8.

The port pilot was killed, and another port worker was injured when a Russian Kh-31P air-to-surface missile hit the ship above its main deck.

Another three members of the ship's crew were injured, all of whom are citizens of the Philippines, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov reported.

The ship sails under the flag of Liberia and was "a civilian vessel carrying iron ore to China," Kubrakov said.

The Odesa Oblast Prosecutor's Office said that its staff were at the scene of the attack to record evidence for an investigation into the war crime.

After Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative on July 17, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that all vessels sailing to Ukrainian ports would be considered "potential carriers of military cargo" and, therefore, military targets.

Attacks against Ukraine's port and grain infrastructure then escalated, with strikes on sea and river ports in Odesa Oblast becoming frequent.

The Ukrainian Navy opened a temporary corridor in September, allowing cargo ships to exit and enter the region's ports.

The corridor hugs the coastlines of Ukraine and NATO members Romania and Bulgaria rather than going directly towards the Bosphorus Strait.

However, the proximity of the route to NATO countries does not guarantee safety. A Turkish cargo ship suffered minor damage from a mine 20 kilometers from the Romanian port of Sulina on the Black Sea on Oct. 5.

Ukraine's Southern Operational Command said on Nov. 1 that Russian warplanes dropped "explosive objects" along the likely route of civilian vessels in the Black Sea three times in 24 hours.

Despite the risks, over 1.3 million metric tons of Ukrainian agricultural products and other cargo had been exported through the temporary corridor by the end of October, according to the Infrastructure Ministry.

Investigators considering 4 theories relating to explosion that killed Zaluzhnyi's aide

The State Bureau of Investigation is considering four possible theories relating to the death of Major Hennadii Chastiakov on Nov. 6, the law enforcement agency's communications adviser Tetiana Sapian said on air on Nov. 8.

Chastiakov, an aide to Ukraine's Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, was killed on his birthday when a grenade he had been gifted exploded in his home in Chaiky, a suburb of Kyiv. His 13-year-old son was seriously injured in the explosion.

Investigators believe that the most likely version of events is that the death was accidental, caused by "the careless handling of ammunition," Sapian said.

However, three other theories are being considered at this stage of the investigation, including a case of murder, a killing organized by Russian special services, and an attempted Russian assassination of a different member of Zaluzhnyi's team.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Mariana Reva also said on Nov. 7 that the explosion was likely the result of careless handling of ammunition.

An unnamed man had confessed to giving Chastiakov the grenade but also said that he had warned him that it was live.

Chastiakov likely disregarded the warning, Reva told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Ukrainian service, and the grenade exploded.

According to the State Bureau of Investigation, the case involves article 410-4 of Ukraine's Criminal Code, which covers stealing, misappropriation, and extorting weapons and other military equipment committed by a service member under martial law.

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Germany’s Rheinmetall to supply Ukraine with 100,000 mortar shells

German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall received an order from the German government to provide Ukraine with about 100,000 rounds of 120mm mortar ammunition, the company announced on Nov. 8.

The ammunition deliveries are due to begin soon and will extend over the next two years, according to Rheinmetall.

“The order, worth a figure in the lower-three-digit million-euro range, forms part of a recent 400-million-euro military aid package for the Ukrainian armed forces,” reads the announcement.

Rheinmetall also wrote that thanks to the acquisition of the Spanish munitions manufacturer Expal, the German concern had further strengthened its capacity in this field of infantry fire support.

“Thanks to its enhanced range, heightened precision, and optimum combat effectiveness, Rheinmetall mortar ammunition can assure favorable outcomes even during operations in difficult terrain and urban environments, the company added.

The announcement comes a month after Rheinmetall said it would produce 150,000 artillery shells for Ukraine on Berlin’s order and deliver them in 2023-2024.

Both Ukrainian and Russian forces are firing thousands of artillery rounds a day, according to Michael Kofman, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Rheinmetall also plans to open a joint Ukrainian-German facility to repair and maintain Western-produced military vehicles and ultimately to produce them domestically in Ukraine, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Oct. 24.

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Top Kherson collaborator Saldo sentenced to 15 years in jail in absentia

An Odesa court has found Volodymyr Saldo, a Ukrainian politician turned top Russian proxy in the occupied part of Kherson Oblast, guilty of treason, collaborationism, and justifying the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Saldo was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail with confiscation of property and a ban to hold managerial state positions, the Malynovskyi district court announced on Nov. 8.

It was proved that Saldo, a Kherson councilman at the time of Moscow's 2o22 invasion of Ukraine, defected to Russia "and actively helped the aggressor country to harm Ukraine's national security," the Prosecutor General's Office said on Telegram.

Russia placed Saldo in charge of the illegal occupation administration in Kherson Oblast, where he "ensured the formation of occupation services, institutions in all spheres of life in the region," according to the prosecutors.

"The convict exercised his powers with the forceful support of Russian service personnel and actual coercion of locals to recognize the occupation authorities."

Saldo, who was once Kherson's mayor and a national lawmaker, is one of the highest-profile Ukrainian collaborators. He fled Kherson before the city was liberated by Ukrainian forces on Nov. 11.

Ukraine's High Anti-Corruption Court already confiscated part of the assets belonging to Saldo on May 9.

Among the collaborator's assets confiscated at the time were five land plots, four non-residential buildings, two houses, and three apartments in Kherson, Odesa, and Russian-occupied Crimea.

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