The European governments and institutions must decide in the coming weeks whether to agree to grant Ukraine the status of candidate country for accession, a far-reaching political decision and a important signal to Russia but at the same time it has little practical content because a country can be a candidate for years or decades without advancing a step towards real membership of the European Union.
Montenegro is a clear example: a much smaller, stable and wealthy country has been an official candidate for accession for 14 years and has only closed three of the 34 chapters to be negotiated.
There is no appetite for extensions except when it comes to a neighboring country, which is why Hungary promotes the accession of Serbia or Romania that of Moldova.
The big capitals drag their feet and although no country loudly denies that Ukraine may one day be a member of the European Union, few believe that it should be in the coming decades and less while maintaining a territorial conflict with Russia.
A Russian soldier in front of the remains of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, destroyed by Kremlin artillery. Photo: EFE
That long-term decision is covering up another that must be taken in the coming weeks and that may be more important. With the war concentrated in the south-east of Ukraine, in the Donbass region, European (and American) governments must decide whether to heed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and increase the number and power of weapons sent to Ukraine or whether, as it seems detected more and more in capitals like Paris, Berlin or Rome, Zelenski goes into the background and goes to a scenario of truce and eventual peace agreement with Russia, however bitter the solution may be.
kyiv asks for more weapons. Zelensky on Monday called for an arsenal of sophisticated heavy weapons that goes far beyond what he has been promised in recent weeks.
The pressure of the Ukrainian president, with whom all Western leaders sought or still seek the photo, accelerates the debate.
Europe and the United States have the upper hand because Ukraine, no matter how much will it has to resist, it will not be able to resist without Western weapons. The guerrilla tactics that served Ukraine in the first weeks and months of the war are no longer enough in a scenario of open battles where Russian artillery pound their positions with long-range rocket launchers while Ukraine does not have the same capacity to respond.
If the flow dries up, the Russians will have no military rival and will be able to advance and occupy territories. If Brussels and Washington tell Zelensky that he must accept a truce and a peace agreement that involves ceding territories and that if he does not there will be no more weapons, the Ukrainian will have no choice but to accept or risk losing more territories.
Zelenski presses because he knows that the Western decision may be close. The Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, the German Olaf Scholz and the Italian Mario Draghi are scheduled to travel together to the Ukrainian capital on the 25th. If they do not carry a promise of more weapons under their arms, Zelensky can understand that he will not have the military support he is looking for.
The debate, which diplomatic sources assure already exists, deeply divides Europeans. The one that is already beginning to be known as the “side of Justice”, the governments of countries closest geographically to Ukraine, such as the Baltics, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Romania, see in the Kremlin the will to continue beyond Ukraine and they feel like possible future victims.
A Russian soldier stands in front of a bomb-damaged school in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Monday. Photo: EFE
That is why they are committed to helping Ukraine as much as possible so that it can be the dam that contains Russia. They believe that some governments on the Western European side do not understand the nature of the Russian aggression.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said in an interview on Sunday: “Russia is an aggressor and we should not consider whether it is humiliated or not. Macron does not seem to understand the matter. Putin does not care about Russia’s image in the West.”
Those on the “peace side” would be those who, like the French, Italian and German governments, believe that Ukraine cannot win the war, that it generates serious economic damage (and politically devastating in Europe) and potentially a world food crisis that must be stopped at all costs.
And that Ukraine must understand that a bitter peace is preferable to a defeat that makes it lose more territory, economic resources and population.