Ukraine on course for EU candidacy at summit, EU says

FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a joint news conference, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Ukraine is set to become an official candidate for European Union membership on Thursday in a symbolic but morale-boosting decision following Russia's invasion, ministers and diplomats said on Tuesday.

EU leaders in Brussels are expected to sign off on last week's recommendation by the European Commission, the EU executive. After several days of internal EU discussions no opposition among the 27 member states has surfaced, three diplomats told Reuters.

"We are working towards the point where we tell (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that Ukraine belongs to Europe, that we will also defend the values that Ukraine defends," Luxembourg's foreign affairs minister Jean Asselborn told reporters before a meeting with other EU ministers.

Moldova is also almost certain to be given candidate status, the diplomats said, although Georgia must fulfil conditions, namely that it overcome political deadlock in the country.

Despite some misgivings among northern EU countries that taking in Ukraine, which suffers from endemic corruption, is unrealistic, Denmark's foreign minister said he welcomed giving it candidacy status.

"It's very good and it's something that Denmark whole-heartedly supports; we want to help Ukraine to achieve its European dream," Jeppe Kofod told reporters in Luxembourg.

While the candidacy will mark a strategic eastward shift by the EU in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine, Kyiv would likely take years to become a member of the bloc, if at all.

Ukraine already has a free trade pact with the EU but applied to join days after Russia's invasion. Moscow says its "special military operation" was partly necessitated by Western encroachment into what it characterises as its rightful geographical sphere of influence.

Putin has so far played down the issue of Ukraine's EU membership.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer, Francesco Guarascio and Robin Emmott; Editing by Alison Williams)

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