Kyiv, Ukraine – As the European Union summit kicked off in Brussels on Thursday evening, an aide to Ukraine’s foreign minister followed the proceedings on a laptop.
Minister Dmytro Kuleba, whose left leg is in a tight red cast after a basketball injury, was elated when he watched the European Council give his war-torn country something it had been seeking without success for years: coveted status as a candidate to join the bloc.
This was one of the best news for Ukraine, which is entering its fourth month of the war, since a successful counterattack drove Russian soldiers away from the capital. Mr. Kuleba said the council’s move was “the most important step in overcoming the last psychological barrier in Ukraine-EU relations”.
However, he acknowledged that his country will have to wait a long time before it can join the 27-member bloc. The action by the European Council, made up of leaders of member states, was just the first step in a year-long process that Ukraine will have to make progress in fighting corruption and enforcing the rule of law until it is finally approved.
“There will certainly be talks and reforms here and in the European Union,” he said. “I don’t care. As long as the decision is made that Ukraine is Europe, I’m fine. History was made.”
For decades, Mr. Kuleba said, while Ukrainians fought for democracy in the protest movements of 2004 and 2014, Brussels and other European capitals “have been enjoying the idea of a buffer zone of something in the middle, a bridge between Russia and the European Union.”
At the last stage, he said, European leaders were informally “winking” at Ukrainian officials. “Like, guys,” he said, “everything will be fine, and it will take years, but in the end you will be with us.” “But they’re still afraid to say it out loud.”
As Mr. Kuleba was speaking in the interview, sirens sounded in Kyiv. An aide ran into the office to say there were 10 Russian missiles flying over Ukrainian airspace.
“I am not surprised that the Russians will shoot Kyiv today,” Kuleba said, adding that the symbolism of that day would not be lost on the Kremlin.
Mr. Kuleba, 41, a career diplomat, said he saw the EU as a “first-ever attempt to build a liberal empire” on democratic principles, comparing it to Russia’s aggression against former Soviet states under President Vladimir Putin.
“I understand that people don’t like the word empire, but that’s the way history is written,” said Mr. Koleba. “You have to show that different things of the same size can be built on different principles: principles of liberalism, democracy, respect for human rights, and not on the principle of imposing one’s will on others.”
Mr. Kuleba said he was grateful to other Western allies, particularly the United States, for their military and political support. However, he said he hoped for a clearer explanation of the war’s objectives for Washington.
“We are still waiting for the moment when we hear a clear message from Washington that the goal of this war for Washington is to win Ukraine and restore international law,” he said. “And Ukraine’s victory for Washington means the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
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