Volodymyr Zelensky achieved his goal: his country became a candidate for EU membership. The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that Ukrainians have in fact proved their belonging to the European family. The integration process has already been launched, but we need to wait for the end of Russia’s military special operation. At the same time, the head of the EC avoided answering the question about the prospects for Moldova and Georgia. This topic is not considered relevant and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Whether a window of opportunity has opened for the three republics, RIA Novosti investigated.
As you know, Moscow demands from Ukraine to secure a non-bloc status, to recognize Crimea as part of Russia, to agree with the independence of the DPR and LPR within the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, to carry out denazification and demilitarization.
For Kyiv, joining the EU could be a kind of moral compensation. At the same time, Brussels has not yet said how long integration will take, but for the Kremlin this issue is “not in line with strategic security.”
“The European Union is not a military-political bloc, that is, the topic lies on a different plane,” Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The Western press is full of headlines about the terrible situation in which Ukraine has found itself since February 24. Of course, there was a public demand for help to Kiev. However, this still does not mean anything. In the end, it’s the EU’s turn. Now the candidates for EU membership are Turkey (since 1999), North Macedonia (since 2005), Montenegro (since 2010), Serbia (since 2012) and Albania (since 2014).
There is no procedure for emergency or accelerated entry yet. The process has always been long and tedious. The candidate must bring the economy in line with European requirements. These are about 30 industrial, financial, economic and social parameters. A special commission is formed for each, endless negotiations and checks begin. When the European bureaucrats decide that all requirements are met, the candidate must receive unanimous approval in the Council of the European Union and an absolute majority of votes in the European Parliament.
Thus, in addition to political will, serious funds are needed to bring the country up to Western standards. For example, according to the estimates of representatives of the ENTSO-E network of system operators for the transmission of electricity, the integration of the Ukrainian energy system into the European one will require about $2.5 billion.
From the EAEU to the EU
While Kyiv is knocking out an accelerated regime for itself, some in the post-Soviet space have also decided to hurry up. In 2021, Moldova and Georgia signed a memorandum with Ukraine on a joint movement to the European Union, forming an “associated trio”. Now, Chisinau and Tbilisi refuse to impose sanctions on Russia, but still hope to slip behind a partner through the half-open European door.
During a visit to Moldova by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, President Maia Sandu said that the situation in Ukraine is pushing for accelerated European integration. This is necessary for the security and well-being of the country.
Chisinau strongly condemned Moscow’s special operation, but did not join Western pressure, explaining that they did not want to be drawn into a conflict with Russia.
The head of the Moldovan parliament, Igor Grosu, refers to energy security. By the way, he reminded that Moldova took care of the Ukrainian refugees.
Until 2020, Moldova tried to maintain good neighborly relations with Russia, the republic even became an observer in the EAEU. But then Moscow-sympathetic President Igor Dodon lost the election to Maia Sandu, a Romanian citizen and right-wing populist who promised to fight corruption. Sandu is especially popular among labor migrants abroad – 93% of the votes. In 2021, parliamentary elections were held and Sandu’s Action and Solidarity party formed a mono-majority for the first time since 2009, guaranteeing the president full power.
Sandu has never been a supporter of rapprochement with Russia. On the contrary, she advocates friendship with Romania (already a member of the EU) and considers it necessary to independently resolve the problem of Transnistria. Meanwhile, there are Russian peacekeepers in the self-proclaimed republic who are not going anywhere. More than two hundred thousand locals received Russian citizenship.
However, Tiraspol has not recognized the DPR and LPR and does not comment on what is happening in Ukraine at all.
On the other hand, having learned about the acceleration of the European integration of Chisinau, the Pridnestrovian Foreign Ministry demanded a final and civilized divorce from the neighbor, followed by peaceful coexistence.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced on March 3 that he had signed an application for EU membership. This was going to be done in 2024, but the events in Ukraine forced us to hurry.
The day before, President Salome Zurabishvili said: the European Union should accept Tbilisi so as not to lead Russia into thinking that there are “weak points” somewhere nearby. She lamented that in 2008 the Western countries did not show such determination as now, and urged the Europeans not to forget about the Georgians.
However, this did not prevent Tbilisi from quarreling with Kiev. First, they abandoned the sanctions. Secondly, they did not want to help with the mercenaries. Ukraine recalled the ambassador for consultations.
In response, the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that Kyiv was trying to drag his country into the conflict. As you know, Georgia has already been at war with Russia, and for Tbilisi it ended badly: Moscow recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The piquancy of the situation is also that Georgia is generally not the most welcome guest in the European Union.
The country is in a deep political crisis. Washington and Brussels have repeatedly asked Tbilisi to look into internal problems, but the authorities refuse to engage in dialogue with the opposition. Moreover, former President Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested in autumn, he is still behind bars.
The Transcaucasian republic has secured the status of a “loser” among applicants for the EU.
Promise does not mean marriage
Experts from Ukraine are the most optimistic. In personal conversations, many admit that back in January they could not even admit the thought that Kyiv would become a candidate, but now everything has turned upside down.
“Ukraine wants to receive some kind of international security guarantees in the event of its military neutrality. Kyiv believes that joining the EU could be such a guarantee. As for integration, with such a size of the country and such large-scale problems, this seemed impossible.
However, the world order is changing to eyes. Zelensky is trying to strike while the iron is hot. Public opinion puts a lot of pressure on European officials, although they understand that it is very expensive to keep Ukraine in the EU,” says Ukrainian political analyst Oleksiy Yakubin.
Moldovan analysts also see good prospects. “If Ukraine accedes to the European Union under an accelerated procedure, then the accession of Moldova will become inevitable. Chisinau will be surrounded by EU countries on all sides.
The same applies to Transnistria,” says Vitaly Andrievsky, director of the Moldovan Institute for Effective Politics.
But Georgian political scientist Nika Chitadze believes that Tbilisi will not be able to shorten the path to the EU:
“Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined forces, but received membership only 15 years later – in 2004. You need to be realistic: Georgia’s GDP is $ 4,300 per capita population, there are problems with democratic standards. So the chances are slim.”
Chitadze is confident that even in the EU, Tbilisi will not abandon its multi-vector policy. “Since 2007, a free trade agreement with China has been in effect. China is now in third place in terms of trade turnover. And we will continue to supply agricultural products, wine, mineral water to Russia. In addition, Georgia exports electricity from Russia in winter, in summer, when the water level rises in the rivers, she sells it to Moscow herself. All foreign trade relations with the post-Soviet countries will be preserved,” the RIA Novosti interlocutor emphasizes.
Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the IMEMO RAS, does not believe in the imminent European integration of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Moreover, he is confused not only by the situation around these countries, but also by the state of the European Union itself.
“An attempt to take advantage of the crisis is justified, the political situation is on their side, but I doubt that the contradictions that have accumulated in the EU will not prevent the entry of three countries at once with a whole range of their own problems,” says Pritchin.
“Of course, unprecedented steps are possible, but there will be no full-fledged membership. This also applies to Ukraine. No matter how the European Parliament acts, it will not be able to admit a warring country to the EU.”
Pritchin stressed that Brussels does not provide any security guarantees because there is no allied military infrastructure. Everyone joins NATO, thus combining economics, politics and security.
“As for the unrecognized territories, there is a scenario of Cyprus, which, most likely, will be used if Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia decide to be admitted to the EU. As you know, the Europeans stand for the territorial integrity of the island state, but Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, is not included in European Union,” the expert concluded. Against this background, the attempt of Moldova and Georgia to join after Ukraine does not add enthusiasm to Brussels.