The rally comes nearly two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale offensive, the beginning of what has become a brutal multi-front assault on Ukrainian cities and civilians. First high-level talks between Ukraine and Russia since the invasion Failed to reach agreement On Thursday, Ukraine’s foreign minister said his country would not “give up” and his Russian counterpart warned the West against sending more weapons to Ukraine.
The conflict has turned Europe’s security architecture upside down, but it has largely united the bloc – at least for the time being. But as the war drags on, the EU will face difficult questions about how far it is willing to go.
Motivated by urgent appeals from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, European Union countries quickly gathered to strike Putin with “unprecedented” sanctions. For the first time, the bloc agreed to supply and finance arms to Ukraine. It also decided to offer “temporary protection” to Ukrainians fleeing the fighting – another precedent.
“Putin thought he was going to invade Ukraine, but he failed,” the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said Thursday.
“He thought it would divide us, but he failed. He thought it would weaken the transatlantic relationship and he failed,” Borrell continued. “Now he needs to end the war.”
But the details are still being worked out. The European Union has increased its renewed commitment to defence, for example, but Borrell’s pledge to send fighter jets to Ukraine failed with little explanation.
European Union leaders have pledged to stand by Ukrainians, including those fleeing the conflict. Ukrainian citizens will be offered ‘temporary protection’ for up to three years, they will be able to live and work in any of the 27 EU countries, and they will be eligible for school and social benefits. They will also bypass the asylum system that has left much of Africa and the Middle East in limbo for years.
Although Europe appears relatively united in its willingness to help, EU countries have yet to figure out how to absorb the nearly two million people who fled Ukraine in two weeks, Plus millions of others who may follow.
The main focus now is The economic impact of sanctions and other measures. The European Union’s proposal to drastically reduce – albeit not ban – Russian gas imports is expected to leave countries scrambling to secure scarce supplies and squabbling over burden-sharing.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karenz said Thursday that the European Union should halt all energy imports from Russia to bring Putin to the negotiating table. “We need sanctions to stop the war,” he said.
The view contrasts with the countries of the European Union, which oppose such measures. In a statement issued before the summit, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said a ban was out of the question. “We still need gas and oil from Russia,” the statement said.
The elephant in the room all the time was Zelensky’s urgent appeal to join the guild. In a recent speech to the European Parliament, the Ukrainian leader begged the bloc to allow entry to his country. “Now we are fighting for survival,” he said in a hypothetical speech. “But we are also striving to be equal members of Europe.”
European lawmakers and officials received the speech with a standing ovation and kind words. But in the days that followed, it became clear that EU countries were divided on what to do about Ukraine’s request and seemed to be looking for a way to say “no,” or at least, “not yet,” without saying it directly.
On Thursday, Clement Bonn, France’s EU affairs minister, suggested on French public radio that negotiations on EU enlargement should not be the focus for now. “What saves lives today is military and humanitarian aid,” he said.
A senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief reporters, was more direct. “Once things calm down,” he said, “we’ll put our money where our mouths are.”
A statement issued Thursday said the European Council “recognized European aspirations and European choice for Ukraine.”
She said the Council had asked the European Commission to provide its opinion on the request. Pending that and without delay, we will work to strengthen our ties and deepen our partnership to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path. Ukraine belongs to our European family.”
Quentin Aris in Brussels contributed to this report.
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