The European Commission recommended Friday that Ukraine should be granted European Union candidate status.
“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards,” the EU’s Executive Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels.
The Executive Commission also approved the candidacy of Moldova, one of Ukraine’s neighbors, for membership in the bloc.
Ukraine and Moldova still face a lengthy process to achieve membership.
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Klaus Iohannis of Romania visited Kyiv on Thursday in a show of support for Ukraine amid its battle to fend off Russia’s invasion.
“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians,” Macron said. Air raid sirens blared as their visit began.
After the talks between the four and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the four signaled that Ukraine would be offered candidate status in the economic bloc.
“My colleagues and I have come here to Kyiv today with a clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family,” Scholz said.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who is now deputy head of the Kremlin Security Council, dismissed the European leaders as “connoisseurs of frogs, liver and pasta” and said their visit brought no benefit.
“Again they promised EU membership and old howitzers, slammed down some vodka and, like 100 years ago, took the train home,” he tweeted. “And that’s all good. It’s just that this doesn’t bring Ukraine any closer to peace. And the clock is ticking.”
But in his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said it was important for him to hear that the European leaders “agree the end of the war and peace for Ukraine should be as Ukraine sees them.”
He said Ukrainians will continue to fight for all of their land.
The focus of the fighting remains the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces say their troops are still holding out. Ukraine is also claiming some progress in taking back territory in the south.
Zelenskyy said winning the war depends on the West continuing to arm Ukraine.
“We appreciate the support already provided by partners; we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defense systems,” he said after speaking with his European counterparts.
“There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our land,” he said.
Macron promised faster deliveries of weapons, including six more truck-mounted artillery guns. In Brussels, NATO defense ministers from more than 45 countries discussed delivering weapons to Ukraine as well as fortifying the alliance’s eastern borders.
On Wednesday, the United States announced $1 billion more in military aid to Ukraine, Washington’s 12th and biggest tranche yet of weaponry and equipment intended to confront Russia’s slow but relentless advance on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at the White House the aid includes $350 million of equipment coming directly from the U.S. military, including 18 high-powered mobile long-range howitzers, 36,000 rounds of ammunition and 18 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers, along with additional ammunition and other equipment.
Kirby said the remaining $650 million in aid, including coastal defense systems, radios, night vision devices and other equipment, will be purchased by the Pentagon from weapons manufacturers through a funding mechanism known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
Kirby said the United States has provided more than $914 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion on Feb. 24, including an additional $225 million announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden. Biden said in a statement the new money will fund safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and health care, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items.
Even before Biden’s announcement of new military assistance, the United States and its allies supporting Ukraine had sent billions of dollars of weaponry and ammunition to assist Ukraine’s fighters.
But U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided a grim assessment of the current battlefield situation on the sidelines of the Brussels conference, telling reporters that the Ukrainian military is suffering as many as 300 casualties a day, including 100 soldiers killed in action and 100-300 wounded.
“For Ukraine, this is an existential threat,” Milley said. “They’re fighting for the very life of their country. So, your ability to endure suffering, your ability to endure casualties is directly proportional to the object to be obtained.”
UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, said Thursday Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed to pushing the number of people forced to flee their homes past “the dramatic milestone of 100 million.”
The agency said the situation in Ukraine has caused “the fastest and one of the largest forced displacement crises since World War II.”
“Either the international community comes together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said in a statement, “or this terrible trend will continue.”
National security correspondent Jeff Seldin and White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some material came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.