BRUSSELS: European Union leaders have granted “candidate status” to Ukra­ine in its bid to join the bloc, as tensions deepened over Russian gas supplies and Moscow’s forces closed in on key cities.

In a show of support, the EU leaders agreed on Thursday to grant candidate status to Ukraine, as well as Moldova, although the two former Soviet republics face a long path before joining the bloc.

Ukraine’s President Volody­myr Zelensky hailed the news as “a unique and historic moment”, adding: “Ukraine’s future is within the EU.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support the pro-Western aspirations of Ukraine.

Russia said the European Union’s decision to grant official EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova was a “domestic” matter.

“These are domestic European affairs. It is very important for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and more problems in the relations of these countries with us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Speaking of Moscow’s relations with the European Union, he said it would be “very difficult to spoil them further”.

Also on Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine and Moldova joining the 27-nation bloc presented “no risks” for Russia, because the EU is not a military alliance.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2022

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