Photo: Flags of EU member states in front of the Palace of Versailles on the day of the EU summit
On April 8, a significant event for the Ukrainian state has occurred. During the visit to Kyiv, President of the European Commission and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Ursula von der Leyen handed over to Volodymyr Zelenskyy a questionnaire for Ukraine to obtain the status of a candidate for membership in the European Union. This questionnaire, the answer to which the Ukrainian diplomats did in advance, waiting for its submission, consists of 40 pages. In comparison, the questionnaire given to Bosnia and Herzegovina was 400 pages long. According to the assessment of the Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Igor Zhovkva, after receiving the questionnaire, Ukraine's accession to the European Union will take place in the coming years, and already at the next regular EU summit on June 23-24, the state leadership hopes for a decision of the European Council regarding granting Ukraine candidate status.
It seems that Ukraine, which has quite successfully implemented the Association Agreement, has managed to convince and radically change the opinion of the European Union. In particular, this was facilitated by Volodymyr Zelenskyy's powerful speeches before the governments and societies of European countries and joint declarations with the trusted partner countries on Ukraine's European perspective, which brought Ukraine closer to EU membership. As of today, even Italy, a state opposed to Ukraine's membership, has changed its position, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi assured Volodymyr Zelenskyy of his support.
However, there remain a number of countries that still are not ready to support Ukraine's entry and with which Ukrainian diplomacy must work carefully. These are 8 countries: Portugal, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Hungary and Germany. The first 6 countries take a more neutral position and will support Ukraine if Germany and France do so. Viktor Orban's Hungary takes an antagonistic stance towards Ukraine, but if the leaders of the European Union support the integration of Ukraine, then Budapest is very likely to do the same, as was the case when Ukraine was recognised as Enhanced Opportunities Partner. The main opponent of the rapid integration of Ukraine is Germany. This means the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy should primarly focus its diplomatic efforts on Berlin.
As the war continues, the European Union is increasingly supporting Ukraine in all spheres, including economic support, military and sanctions policy. If earlier it was mainly the Eastern European states that were ready to take decisive steps, countries which, in terms of their capabilities, made a colossal contribution, as the world sees the atrocities committed by the Russians on Ukrainian soil, the positions of the Western European states are also changing. The sixth package of sanctions to be introduced against Russia will likely include an embargo on Russian oil. According to The New York Times, talks on a phased embargo will begin after the second round of the French presidential election on April 24, 2022. According to a study by the think-tank Center for Transportation and the Environment (T&E), Russia receives about 285 million euros daily from European countries for oil. And it is oil that accounts for the main source of income for the Russian Federation, not gas, and allows the Russian Federation to continue the war of conquest against Ukraine. In the near future, the Ukrainian government expects European partners to stop this cash flow, hitting the Kremlin and the ability of the Russians to continue the aggression.
In the issue of imposing an embargo, not all states are unanimously ready to give up their economic interests. The Hungarian leadership made inappropriate comments on the Bucha massacre when Viktor Orban said he needed more evidence of Russian crimes. After that, Hungary ruled out the possibility of imposing sanctions against the Russian energy sector and expressed its readiness to pay for Russian gas in rubles. Soon, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy reminded his Hungarian colleague of the crimes of Nazi Germany against Hungarian Jews and said that sooner or later Orban will have to choose which side his country is on. According to Orban, sanctions do not meet the interests of Hungary, however, this is a big mistake. If Ukraine had lost, Russian troops would already be standing on the Hungarian border. The sovereignty of this state would be threatened. This threat would not be one of those the Hungarian government propagates among the population, pretending to be fighters against the George Soros Foundation, but a real one. Viktor Orban chooses the path of post-Soviet authoritarian leaders, whose activities ultimately led to crises in these countries. The example of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus should be a warning to Viktor Orban about the possible consequences of such a policy.
You can't just contemplate how Ukrainians are dying near your border and try to keep your balance. Representatives of the Visegrad Four reminded their Hungarian colleagues about this. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic became reliable partners of Ukraine during this war. The three states, in contrast to Budapest, supported Ukraine politically, provided humanitarian relief measures, supported the imposition of sanctions, and transferred a significant amount of weapons to Ukraine, including air defense systems, artillery, MLRS systems, ammunition and more. A meeting of the Visegrad Four was scheduled for March 30 and 31, 2022 in Budapest, but Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak canceled his participation due to Hungary's rhetoric about Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Czech Defense Minister Jana Chernohova also canceled her participation. “I have always supported V4 and I am very sorry that cheap Russian oil is more important for Hungarian politicians than Ukrainian blood”, Chernokhova wrote on Twitter. This is not the first alarm bell within this format.
Last year, after explosions at military depots in the Czech Republic, Hungary did not agree with the harsher version of the Visegrad Four statement on Russia, so a softer version was approved. The original version of the declaration developed by Poland was tougher and called for the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, and also expressed strong support for Ukraine and Belarus. The consistent pro-Russian policy of the Orban government is undermining security in Eastern Europe. Hungary should have become a natural ally of neighboring countries, however, the policy of its current government destroys interstate trust, and in the context of the emerging global confrontation between democratic and authoritarian countries, the NATO and EU member state is on the side of the authoritarian aggressor.
The policy of the governments of European states outside the EU turned out to be doubtful. These are: Serbia, Moldova and Georgia. If Serbia already has the status of a candidate for membership, then Moldova and Georgia, together with Ukraine, took the chance and received questionnaires. Thus, the struggle of the Ukrainians opened up the possibilities for Georgia and Moldova. Both states did not fully support the sanctions against Russia and became one of the likely ways to circumvent European sanctions. In Georgia this caused misunderstanding on the part of the population, which from the very beginning of the war has been supporting the Ukrainian people through rallies, providing humanitarian assistance, while the Georgian contingent of the foreign legion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is one of the largest.
Moldova, in turn, has taken a number of domestic political decisions that reduce Russian influence within the country and should affect the pro-Russian views of the population. This is, for example, the bill on combating propaganda and misinformation. According to the document, incitement to hatred, justification of military aggression, elements of hybrid aggression and information disseminated by the aggressor state through both traditional and social media will be punished by fines. Russian news, information-analytical and military programs in Moldova will be banned from broadcasting. The ban on the “St. George's ribbon” and the symbols of the current aggression - the Latin symbols Z and V - have also been introduced. The use of such symbols will also result in punishment by fines. According to Ukrainian Prizma expert Serhiy Herasymchuk, it is in Ukraine’s interest if the Moldovan government will go further and fight the fifth column, the pro-Russian parties, in its country.
In general, if we discard emotions and do not take into account the moral aspect, the European integration of Georgia and Moldova is in the interests of Ukraine. However, the actions of the governments of the two countries, the refusal to fully support the sanctions against the Russian Federation, cause mistrust, and if danger comes from the territory of Moldova or Georgia, Ukraine and the partner countries should put pressure on governments of these states. This relates to the issue of maintaining the sanctions regime and the direct threat to Ukraine from the territory of Transnistria. If Russia tries to transfer its planes there, the Tiraspol airport will be destroyed along with Russian planes in Moldovan airspace.
The more the civilized world sees the results of Russian aggression, the more European countries consolidate around Ukraine. This is facilitated by the success of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the international support of partner countries, the work of the Ukrainian leadership as well as civil society. So far, there are countries within the European Union that are still not ready to support Ukraine's accession, so Ukrainian diplomacy should focus on working within these countries. This is especially true of Germany, whose position may affect other countries. Nevertheless, Ukraine is approaching EU membership which is now a matter of the coming years.
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