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Moldova and Ukraine’s Accelerated Path to EU Marks Russia’s Waning Influence

Invasion of Ukraine has fast-tracked timetable for the countries to join bloc after years of ‘economic warfare’

Long before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow had already been accused of launching an economic war against its neighbours. With bullying, cajoling and outright threats, the Kremlin’s campaign to warn its former Soviet subjects away from the EU involved telling them they would be blocked from the Russian market and its own customs union, and face cutoffs of crucial supplies of natural gas.

Wednesday’s recommendation by the European Commission to open EU accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova marks the latest casualty of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine: its own war for economic domination, or at least competitiveness, in eastern Europe.

In Moldova, where for decades pro-European and pro-Russian politicians had vied for control amid high levels of poverty and corruption, Russia’s actions in February 2022 gave the government of the president, Maia Sandu, a clear path to accelerated entry into the EU.

Ursula von der Leyen holds a press conference

“We want to live in peace, prosperity, be part of the free world,” Sandu said less than two weeks after the invasion, announcing Moldova’s formal bid to enter the EU. “While some decisions take time, others must be made quickly and decisively, and taking advantage of the opportunities that come with a changing world.”

Ukraine and Georgia, the latter now recommended by the European Union’s executive for formal candidate status to the bloc, also used the war as a springboard to apply for fast-track EU membership, submitting bids days after the Russian invasion began.

EU officials appear especially keen to accelerate Ukraine’s entry into the bloc, revealing on Wednesday that they hoped to reduce the usual two-year process of assessing the scale of work involved in incorporating EU law into Ukrainian statute books down to just six months.

The speed with which both Ukraine and Moldova appear to have reformed and rooted out oligarchs and corrupt systems is now being rewarded by an accelerated timetable in Brussels.

These turnaround times would have been unthinkable before Russia launched Europe’s largest conflict since the second world war. While Turkey has waited decades to enter the bloc, the war in Ukraine has made clear to EU officials the need to have a secure eastern front with Russia.

And while Russia has trumpeted Nato expansion as the main threat to its security, EU accession talks have proved equally incendiary and threatening to the Kremlin, which dominates its own economic bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union.

It was the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to scupper a trade pact and political association agreement with the EU that first ignited the Euromaidan protests of 2013-14, later leading to the ousting of Yanukovych and to Russia’s proxy invasion of east Ukraine in 2014.

Dmitry Rogozin, then a deputy prime minister of Russia, suggested in 2013 that Moldova’s pursuit of a trade and association agreement with the EU could lead to the loss of territory, restrictions on migrant labour and cutoffs of natural gas supplies. “Energy is important, the cold season is near, winter on its way. We hope that you will not freeze this winter,” he said at the time.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s then foreign minister, denoted the threats to cut off gas supplies to Moldova and wine exports from the country as “economic warfare”, telling reporters: “What we have seen during the past few weeks is brutal Russian pressure against the partnership countries of a sort that we haven’t seen in Europe for a very long time.”

Now, amid the threat of an expanding war in Europe, the former barriers to EU entry have fallen. Even in Georgia, where the EU decision appears largely symbolic in the short term, it has been hailed as the latest confirmation that Moscow has lost sway over its neighbours.

After the announcement, the Georgian president, Salome Zourabichvili, announced a pro-EU rally by the presidential palace on Wednesday evening “to say once more that our future is not with Russia”.

Source : The Guardian