Ukraine belongs in the European Union and the bloc wants the country to join, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday — a rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own claims over the Eastern European country.
“We have a process with Ukraine that is, for example, integrating the Ukrainian market into the single market,” von der Leyen told Euronews in an interview after announcing plans for the Union to provide some €500 million in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military as it battles Russia’s invasion.
“We have very close cooperation on the energy grid, for example. So many topics where we work very closely together and indeed over time, they belong to us. They are one of us and we want them in,” the Commission president said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter late Sunday night that he spoke to von der Leyen on the phone about “concrete decisions on strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities, macro-financial assistance and Ukraine’s membership in the #EU.”
Von der Leyen’s remarks are likely to stir anger in Moscow, where Putin has used what he claims is a historical oneness between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples as justification for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as well as complaints about Kyiv’s growing ties to the West.
Still, the decision to add new countries to the EU lies with established member countries, which don’t always agree with the Commission’s views and have blocked accession talks over bilateral conflicts with candidates. Ukraine is still not an official candidate for EU accession talks.
Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian peace negotiators have agreed to meet near the Belarus border for talks as the fighting enters its fifth day.
Von der Leyen said of peace talks: “Of course, it is important that the Ukrainian side agrees to the peace talks and that conditions are fine for the Ukrainian side. In general, it is always better to have peace talks than to have a fight. But the trust in President Putin is completely broken and eroded.”