The European Commission recommended that Ukraine and Moldova be granted status as candidates to join the European Union on Friday, the first official step in the process of joining the bloc of nations.
The recommendation follows Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has increased worries about Russia’s presence in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited fears of growing Western influence as a reason for the invasion of Ukraine, and drew a hard line against Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — a Western alliance formed to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
How will Russia respond if Ukraine joins the EU?
On Friday, the Kremlin responded to the news, saying the development required “increased attention” from Moscow, according to CNN. Russia previously said that joining the EU would be tantamount in its eyes to joining NATO, and it recently balked at the idea that Finland and Sweden — both current EU member states — might join NATO.
Any attempt to bring Ukraine more in line with Western nations “will no doubt be seen as an act of aggression by Putin,” CNN writes.
Putin himself downplayed the potential escalation, when he said he has “nothing against” Ukraine’s ambitions to join the EU, according to The Washington Post.
“It is not a military bloc. It’s the right of any country to join economic unions,” he said, when asked about the news at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Will Ukraine join the EU?
Even with the European Commission’s recommendation, Ukraine is still a long way from full admittance into the EU. Leaders will meet in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23-24 to consider the question, after which the process normally takes longer than a decade to complete, according to The New York Times.
EU officials laid out a series of steps Ukraine will be required to take before admittance, including addressing endemic corruption, protecting minorities and introducing new laws regarding the media.
European countries are split on Ukraine’s prospects, according to the Times, with some who prefer Ukraine be granted a “candidate light” status, to recognize that the country is far from meeting the requirements and avoid making promises the EU can’t keep.