This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on the European Union to offer his nation membership in the bloc, saying it would be a “powerful response” to Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to attack Ukraine on February 24 as he seeks a sphere of influence over former Soviet states, including Ukraine, and prevent their integration into Western organizations.
“This war of Russia against Ukraine was planned as a prelude to a blow to a united Europe. Greater unification is a powerful response,” he told a conference via video link on May 5, as he asked for formal candidacy for membership.
Candidacy opens the door to formal membership negotiations, a process that involves the adoption of established EU law and the fulfillment of other conditions, known as accession criteria.
Ukraine has been pursuing a path toward EU integration since the overthrow of Russia-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
The government has been slowly carrying out EU-backed political and economic reforms over the years and has expressed frustration with the bloc’s delays in starting formal membership negotiations.
The 27-member EU hasn’t expanded its membership in nearly a decade due to weak support from key countries amid slow economic growth.
Zelenskiy said the bloc should provide EU candidacy to Ukraine “right now –– in the condition of war, within the framework of a special shortened procedure for obtaining EU membership.”
Zelenskiy, who was addressing an international conference dedicated to supporting Ukraine, also called on the West to take an active role in a grand program to rebuild his country after the war.
Referencing the Marshall Plan, the massive U.S. initiative to rebuild Europe after World War II as a bulwark against Moscow, Zelenskiy said Ukraine needs “a strategic international support plan,” including money, technology, and specialists.
Russia’s invasion has devastated Ukraine’s economy, destroying tens of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure — including airports, bridges, ports, and power plants — and sending millions of people fleeing their homes.
Ukrainian officials have put the damage in the hundreds of billions of dollars, while the International Monetary Fund forecasts the economy could contact by one-third.
Zelenskiy said a Marshall Plan for his country would enable Ukrainians who have fled the fighting, including to EU countries, to return to cities and villages.
“Such investments from the free world — if they are fast, if they are sufficient – would mean that millions of our people who have become internally displaced because of this war will be able to return home,” he said.