Russian invasion speeds up steps towards Ukraine’s integration into EU

EU works to connect electricity grid with Ukraine and Moldova

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has galvanised efforts to integrate the country with the European Union as its government announced it would formally apply for membership and officials sped up work to link its electricity grid.

Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal announced on social media that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a "membership application".

“This is the choice of...Ukrainian people. We more than deserve it,” he wrote.

It follows comments to media by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that "they are one of us and we want them in".

The accession process to the EU is strict, complex, and lengthy, with significant hurdles, and any potential accession likely years away. But the declarations are politically significant as a symbol of solidarity with Ukraine and support for a future in which it aligns with the EU.

Public demand in Ukraine for closer links with the EU drove its Maidan revolution, culminating in the signing of an association agreement with the bloc in 2014 agreeing economic, regulatory and legal convergence and visa-free travel. The closer association is a sore point for Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has said that the country rightly belongs within the Russian sphere.

The European Parliament called an extraordinary session to vote to condemn the Russian invasion on Tuesday, which is expected to call on the EU institutions "to work towards granting EU candidate status to Ukraine . . . on the basis of merit".

In a joint appeal, the presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia called for the EU to "immediately grant Ukraine an EU candidate country status" and open negotiations.

The last country to join the EU was Croatia in 2013. Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are all candidate countries. But accession negotiations have long-stalled in the bloc, partly due to reluctance to accept new members among western EU countries fuelled by democratic backsliding and obstructionism in some newer member states.

Legacy

The EU has also agreed to speed work to link up its electricity grid with those of Ukraine and Moldova. The grids of both countries have been integrated with Russia as part of the legacy of the Soviet Union, but they disconnected their systems on February 24th.

This was a long-planned test as part of preparations to link up with the EU grid in 2023, energy commissioner Kadri Simson told journalists. But it coincided with the invasion, and the planned re-connection with the Russian grid was never performed.

They have now decided not to reconnect, and the EU will send emergency fuel while both run on “isolation mode” and technicians work to link the grids with the EU, she said.

“We will move forward essentially to connect Ukraine’s electricity system as quickly as possible” Ms Simson said. “This is not a matter of hours, it is more like days. Might be several weeks.”

More broadly, the conflict has exposed a profound EU reliance on Russian gas imports, and has spurred efforts to ramp up alternative liquid natural gas supplies and alternative energy sources.

“It is our current assessment that the EU can get through this winter safely,” Ms Simson said, based on a review of energy sources.

Nevertheless, the EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that sanctions and the conflict will "have a cost".

“There’s going to be turbulence on the energy market. It is happening, it will increase prices,” he said.

In a step of political integration Fianna Fáil’s pan-European ALDE political party group accepted the Servant of the People party of Mr Zelenskiy as a temporary affiliate, with full membership to be discussed at its congress in Dublin in June.