From Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 11, 2022, p. 1. Condensed text:)

. . . In his video address to deputies of the Slovak National Council (parliament) on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky once again called for more arms supplies to Kiev and for tougher anti-Russian sanctions.

At the same time, he urged Bratislava to support Ukraine’s earliest possible admission to the EU. In his Telegram video posted the day before, Zelensky said that Ukraine had submitted to the EU the second part of the questionnaire on EU membership. He said it was a very important step, adding that “in June, we expect to receive an affirmative response regarding our country’s candidate status for EU membership.” Earlier, Vladimir Zelensky also discussed the issue via teleconference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and showed her the completed questionnaire. After that, [von der Leyen] told Zelensky that the European Commission intended to issue its opinion in June.

However, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, the process for Ukraine’s accession to the EU would take years or even decades. “Unless we decide to lower the standards for accession,” he added.

Although perhaps in the present complicated situation when Russia is continuing its special military operation on Ukrainian territory and many EU countries have jointly declared support for Kiev, unconventional solutions in this area are also possible?

Nikolai Topornin, director of the Information Office of the Council of Europe, told NG that naturally it is important to distinguish the attainment of EU candidate status from accession to the organization. Indeed, quite a few years can pass between these two stages, as evidenced by the example of several Balkan countries or the case of Turkey, which has been unsuccessfully trying to join the EU for three decades now. However, Ukraine could get candidate status fairly soon. It is difficult to say whether this will happen in June, but it seems that such a decision could possibly be made within a few months. The EU has declared its intention to fast-track Ukraine’s application. At the same time, Georgia and Moldova submitted similar applications to Brussels. As a result, candidate status for the aforementioned countries could be granted “as a package,” Topornin said.

However, he acknowledged that right now, amid Russia’s military operation, prospects for Ukraine look rather vague. At the same time, Kiev is using this situation to its own advantage. For example, before Russia launched its special operation on Feb. 24, Brussels repeatedly assessed the prospects for granting Ukraine candidate status by citing the protracted conflict in the Donetsk Basin, unresolved problems in combating corruption and insufficient progress in reforming the judiciary. Today, Ukraine is even less prepared [for EU membership] than it was before Feb. 24, but because Western countries are supporting it in its conflict with Russia, Kiev has the wind at its back. Under the present circumstances, it is more difficult for Brussels to turn [Kiev] down. On the other hand, once the sought-after status is granted, [Ukraine] should expect to be included in corresponding mechanisms of cooperation with the EU, which, for example, provide for investment in essential reforms in various areas. Naturally, that decision will also have a political impact and entail further solidarity with Ukraine, since it will need to be approved by all EU member countries, the expert pointed out.

Needless to say, it is important that Zelensky announced the submission of the [completed] questionnaire, but no tangible results should be expected, Aleksandr Domrin, law professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, told NG, taking a different view. “Zelensky is overly optimistic. I am not sure that he is sincere in making such statements. His remarks are clearly intended for domestic consumption and are not addressed to the EU,” he explained.

Due to the circumstances that have evolved, it is doubtful that Ukraine will get candidate status in the foreseeable future, Domrin said. In his opinion, the EU already has plenty of immediate problems with Russia and it will not want to multiply them.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, in the second part of the questionnaire, which took up about 4,000 pages, Kiev was supposed to assess the state of Ukrainian legislation eight years after the EU-Ukraine association agreement was signed, including in terms of its compliance with European norms. Putting all other things aside, in theory the violation of ethnic minority rights – an issue that was originally cited as one of the main reasons for the armed confrontation with the Donetsk Basin – should inevitably come up. In this context, shouldn’t the discussion of Kiev’s earlier moves, such as closing Russian-language schools or declaring [ethnic] Russians to be nonindigenous people in Ukraine, prompt the Europeans to make an appropriate assessment, thus facilitating more civilized norms in this area?

Domrin commented that if the EU seriously considers Kiev’s application, problems are bound to arise, since Ukrainian legislation in no way corresponds to Europe’s. In particular, this concerns the rights of ethnic minorities and the use of their [native] languages. However, at this point the sides have not yet reached a level of relations where Kiev would be required to change its legislation to comply with Europe’s, since the EU has not yet promised Ukraine anything, said Domrin.

Later, Brussels may indicate to Kiev that it is necessary to meet European standards, Topornin said, adding that there are grounds for such recommendations. However, knowing that amid the Russian military operation, many Ukrainian representatives are sharply negative toward Russia, Russian culture and the Russian language, the EU will probably choose not to play up the issue. [They] may eventually find a compromise like specialized Russian-language schools in Ukraine. “But for now, [you] have to be realistic and understand that with some [people] in Kiev, if [you] so much as use the word ‘Russian,’ you won’t know what hit you!” he commented.

Andrei Bystritsky, chairman of the board of the Valdai International Discussion Club Foundation, took a middle-of-the-road position in the debate. Of course, it is necessary to discuss the status of the Russian language and Russian speakers in Ukraine, he told NG. This is an extremely important issue that Russia has brought up in no uncertain terms in connection with discrimination and the violation of ethnic minority rights in Ukraine. Naturally, this issue should be addressed as part of problems related to Ukraine’s political system, as well as its present-day customs and mores, even though obviously this is not the EU’s immediate priority. At the same time, the European community is clearly not united; some of the EU countries’ leaders and their “thinking class” understand the current situation in Ukraine very well and have no illusions about it. So as the situation develops, the question of duly ensuring the rights of Ukraine’s Russian speakers could be addressed. And it cannot be ruled out that constructive solutions will eventually be found, Bystritsky concluded.