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Ukraine’s Long Journey into Europe

Alexander Brotman

Geopolitical Monitor, June 15, 2022

“As is the case with all of Russia’s hybrid warfare and disinformation campaigns, Moscow doesn’t have to offer a valid alternative to the EU, it just has to show that the EU is too cumbersome and unruly to be worth the effort.”

As most of the world has stood with Ukraine in its valiant fight against Russian aggression since 24 February, one of the main outcomes thus far is that Ukraine’s formal status as a candidate for EU membership is set to be granted in Brussels later this month. After visits to Kyiv from multiple EU leaders, most notably European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the mechanisms are in place for Ukraine to formally begin its long march to Europe. This is the culmination of a protracted struggle forged in the early years of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, defiantly witnessed in the 2004 Orange Revolution, and accelerated after the Maidan Uprising of 2014. Now, Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine has sparked an anti-Russian and pro-European fervour that seems unstoppable, with 91% of Ukrainians expressing support for joining the EU in a poll conducted at the end of March.

In order to join the EU, Ukraine must fulfil the conditions of the Copenhagen Criteria, which demands stable, democratic institutions, the rule of law, and a ‘functioning market economy.’ Several current EU member states, including Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, met these criteria upon acceding to the bloc, but have subsequently suffered from democratic backsliding, corruption, and serious rule of law debates with Brussels. This is a current weakness within the EU that in the case of Hungary has resulted in a flawed democracy bordering on a hybrid regime in the heart of Europe.

For Ukraine to be in as strong a position as possible upon its accession, it must meet or even exceed all these criteria under a degree of scrutiny that has perhaps evaded Brussels in previous rounds of enlargement. 

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