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EU Council president dampens hopes for accession talks in Ukraine

Published November 21,2023
European Council President Charles Michel (AFP Photo)
European Council President Charles Michel has warned Ukraine that a quick decision on the start of EU accession negotiations with the country should not be taken for granted.

Some of the EU member states had made it clear that they "would like to think carefully" before they decide on the next step in the process, the Belgian politician said during a visit to Ukraine on Tuesday.

Michel said that the member states were continuing to "work very hard to try to build a united position in the European Council" before the EU summit in December.

However, he emphasized that "the political difficulties" should not be underestimated and added that hard budgetary decisions would have to be made at the same time.

Michel did not say which EU states could block the start of accession negotiations for the country, which has been resisting an all-out Russian invasion since February 2022.

He also pointed out that there was a view among a few members that more needed to be done to accelerate the process for Western Balkan states, like Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some of these countries were promised accession more than 20 years ago.

Michel had held informal talks with numerous EU heads of state and government in the past few days and plans to talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his visit to Kiev.

The top EU official recently caused a stir when he said that, in his view, Ukraine could be part of the EU as soon as 2030 if the country implements the necessary reforms, fights corruption and meets the legal requirements.

The European Council granted Ukraine the status of a candidate for accession to the European Union in June 2022. Kiev is currently waiting for a decision on formally starting accession negotiations.

The European Commission recommended this step in principle two weeks ago, but the governments of the EU countries still have to agree to it. A decision is expected to be made at the last regular summit of EU leaders on December 14 and 15.

Michel is visiting as Ukraine marks 10 years since the start of the of Euromaidan protests that swept the country. They were triggered by pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych's decision not to sign an association agreement with the EU.

Michel said Ukrainian protesters had died at the hands of Yanukovych's security forces because they believed in "European values" and wanted a free future.

"And that's why this moment is an important one and that's why I will also try to use this momentum to express this conviction that the EU will be safer and stronger with Ukraine within the EU," he said.

Zelensky paid tribute to the 2013 protests on Tuesday, saying they were the "the first counteroffensive" against Russia.

Zelensky described the civil unrest that erupted in the autumn of that year as a fight against autocratic lawlessness and for a European future.

"Year after year, step by step, we are doing everything we can to ensure that one day our star will also shine among the stars of the EU flag. The star of Ukraine," Zelensky said.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius was also in Kiev in a show of support for Ukraine, as a potentially brutal winter looms and the world's attention is turned toward the Middle East.

The visit is the second for Pistorius since taking up his post in February, and comes just hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited the Ukrainian capital.

Pistorius is to meet Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov.

Eastern Ukraine was again struck by Russian bombardment from the air on Monday night.

The hospital in the Donbass front-line town of Selydove was one of the buildings hit, the Ukrainian General Staff announced on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said that at least six civilians were injured there.

Klymenko wrote that a mine had been hit in the neighbouring town of Novohrodiivka, and that one person had died there. Thirty-nine miners were temporarily trapped underground, but have since been brought back to the surface.

Britain's Ministry of Defence said that Russian armed forces could be preparing for a new winter cruise missile campaign against Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

The Russians have been holding back on firing cruise missiles for almost two months, which the ministry suggests was to "build up a substantial stock of these weapons."

Meanwhile, in Moscow, officials said Kiev's attempts to establish a bridgehead on the Russian-occupied eastern bank of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine have failed.

"No attempt by the Ukrainian armed forces to conduct a landing operation in the Kherson area was successful," Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting of senior military officials on Tuesday.

The Russian troops did not allow their opponents to gain any ground and inflicted "colossal losses," said the 68-year-old. He put Ukrainian losses since the beginning of the month at almost 14,000 soldiers - a figure that cannot be independently verified.

Russia's account is disputed by Kiev and even Russian military bloggers who have close access to the situation on the battlefield.

Since the summer, Ukrainian units have repeatedly crossed the Dnipro to the Russian-occupied side of the river in the Kherson region.

Ukrainian infantrymen have been holding positions around the town of Krynky for weeks, despite ongoing fighting.

Kiev has reportedly succeeded in providing supplies across the river, but has not yet delivered the heavy equipment and tanks that would be necessary to expand the bridgehead further into Russian-held territory.

Kherson in southern Ukraine was largely occupied shortly after the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022. In November last year, the Ukrainians succeeded in liberating the parts of the region located on the right bank of the river - including the regional capital Kherson of the same name.

The ability of the Ukrainian troops to establish a presence on the other side of the river is seen as a small but significant win for Kiev.