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United on Ukraine, EU tackles the devil in details at summit

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — European Union leaders on Thursday focused on how to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, but the measures discussed are expected to stop short of fulfilling the country’s hopes it can soon join the bloc.

EU nations have been fully united in backing Ukraine’s resistance with unprecedented economic sanctions, but divisions have started to surface on how fast Brussels could move in integrating Ukraine, and how swiftly the 27-nation bloc could sever energy ties with Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants his country to quickly become an EU member, but an agreement on that point won’t be achieved this week, despite more prodding from Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“This step would provide an enormous injection of hope to the Ukrainian people. In these dark times, we need this hope more than ever,” Kubela wrote in an opinion article in the Financial Times. “Leaders of the EU, it is your turn to make history.”

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Ukrainians should not hold their breath, though. At best, EU leaders are expected to agree on vague language supportive of the Ukrainian bid to join the European family, but they will stop short of going further into the process.

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United on Ukraine, EU tackles the devil in details at summit
The Ukrainian fast-track bid has received warm support in Eastern European countries, but EU officials have stressed the process could take years, with unanimity among current members required to allow a newcomer in the club.

Another key deterrent to a hasty decision is the specific EU treaty clause that if a member falls victim to armed aggression, the other EU countries have an obligation to aid and assist it by all the means in their power.

“The chance of all member states agreeing to admit Ukraine while it is at war with Russia is virtually zero, as it could trigger conflict with Moscow,” said Luigi Scazzieri, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

But specifically the Baltic nations, with their Soviet past, want to reach out to Ukraine.

“It’s also important to show a clear open door for EU membership for Ukraine, that the path is open for them to take and that we as a family of democratic nations would want them,” said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins. “That’s very, very important for the Ukrainians right now as a very important signal.”

Leaders’ talks in Versailles, west of Paris. will also focus on how to wean the bloc off its Russian energy dependency and bolster the region’s defense capabilities.

Possible new sanctions against Russia and its ally Belarus — including cutting all their banks from the SWIFT dominant system for global financial transactions — will also be on the table.

“To stop Putin, sanctions is the best way, what we can do to hurt his economy, his ability to fund his war machine,” Karins said, pushing for an embargo on fossil fuels exports from Russia.

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“So right now, the energy sector is the Kremlin’s main source of income, some 600 million euros a day,” he said. “If we were to stop the purchase of Russian energy, that would stop the funding of the Russian military machine.”

All leaders agree that the EU should reduce its dependency on imports of Russian gas, oil and coal while accelerating the green transition. The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas and a quarter of its oil.

Earlier this week, the European Commission proposed to diversify natural gas supplies and speed up renewable energy development in a bid to reduce EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of the year.

It’s however unlikely leaders will follow Washington’s lead and unanimously endorse a full embargo on Russian oil and gas imports. France won’t defend what it considers a radical measure and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made clear he opposes the idea.

Efforts to agree on a boycott are complicated because some EU countries, including Germany and Italy, are much more dependent than others on Russia. Poland gets 67% of its oil from Russia, while Ireland receives only 5%.

Dutch Prime minister Mark Rutte said it was essential that the EU should “not (go) hastily in the direction of a complete ban on gas and oil from Russia.”

Divergences on how the the EU should tackle the energy price surge due to the Ukraine conflict also remain ahead of the meeting. Greece has proposed a six-point plan including a price-cap mechanism to address the spiking energy prices, but that idea has been dismissed as unrealistic by other members.

“Collectively, it is a mission impossible,” a EU diplomat said. “Private sector has long-term investment deals, that would lead to court cases. It is very complicated.” The person spoke anonymously ahead of the summit in line with EU practice.

The EU has showed remarkable cohesion since the war started last month. It quickly adopted massive sanctions targeting Putin himself, Russia’s financial system and its high-maintenance oligarchs. It also took the unprecedented step of collectively supplying weapons to a country under attack.

The EU agreed to spend 450 million euros ($500 million) on buying weapons for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Germany said it would raise defense spending above 2% of gross domestic product — and broke with a long tradition of refusing to export weapons to conflict zones when it agreed to send anti-tank and air defense missiles to Ukraine.

According to a draft of the summit’s conclusions obtained by The Associated Press, leaders will agree in Versailles that they “must bolster resolutely (their) investment in defense capabilities and innovative technologies,” and to continue efforts to make the EU “a stronger and more capable security provider.”


Raf Casert in Brussels and Jeff Schaeffer in Paris contributed.

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