June 23, 2022

The E.U. Opens the Door

Ukraine gets coveted candidate status to the bloc.

Hello. This is your Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, a weeknight guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.

President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the European Parliament in March.  
John Thys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

European leaders put Ukraine on a path to join the E.U., giving an important psychological boost to the country as it fights Russia for its survival.

Granting Ukraine coveted candidate status was the first step in a process that could take a decade or longer. Still, the decision was seen as impossible a few weeks ago, not least because Ukraine was seen as too far behind in terms of eliminating corruption and instituting economic overhauls to be able to join, my colleagues Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Monika Pronczuk reported.

Becoming an E.U. candidate signals that a country is in position to begin a detailed and painstaking process of negotiations with the bloc, with a view to eventually joining. To become a member, a nation must align itself institutionally, democratically, economically and legally to E.U. laws and norms. On average, the process has taken other countries about 10 years; Turkey has been a candidate for 21 years, but is unlikely to join.

The war has created the momentum necessary to accept Ukraine’s candidate status and work out the messy details later. European nations have shed qualms and preconceptions in the face of Russia’s invasion.

Many countries are eager to keep the bloc from growing, partly because its 27 members already find it at times exceedingly hard to agree on issues like democratic freedoms, economic policy and the role of the courts. Ukraine’s history of corruption has also sown doubts, and some E.U. members worry about the bloc’s ability to absorb a country of Ukraine’s size and population.

The move is bound to irritate Russia, which has described Ukraine’s aspirations to align itself fully with Western institutions such as NATO and the E.U. as a provocation and as interfering with its sphere of influence.


Follow our coverage of the war on the @nytimes channel.

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

While many Russians have fled their country, many others who were well-connected at home and had close ties to the West have stayed behind.

Four months into the war, the choices that Russia’s elite has made illustrate why it’s unlikely that any broad coalition of Russians will emerge to challenge President Vladimir Putin, my colleague Anton Troianovski writes.

A few are speaking out against the war at great personal risk, but most are keeping their head down. Some have thrown in their lot with the Kremlin.

The lonely dissenter

Yevgenia Albats, 63, is a radio host and magazine editor who today broadcasts from her apartment to YouTube because the Echo of Moscow radio station, which carried her show for nearly two decades, was shut down.

She has called Putin a war criminal, and already faces four misdemeanor charges under Russia’s new censorship law.

As one of the few prominent liberals who continues to loudly criticize the war while inside the country, and with just about all her friends having left, Albats says she faces a “monstrous” loneliness.

“All the ones who could have resisted have left,” she said. “I must resist — otherwise I will stop respecting myself. But I understand that life is over.”

The pragmatist

Aleksandr Lebedev, 62, is a business magnate with deep connections to Russia’s ruling class (he is a former K.G.B. agent) and to the West (his son owns British newspapers and is a member of the House of Lords).

He says he is powerless to bring about change. “What, am I supposed to now go to the Kremlin with a banner?” he said. “It’s more likely to be the opposite.”

The idea that Russia’s wealthy could have any influence on Putin’s inner circle was “an absolute illusion,” he said. “I live here, I have to feed my family, so I will keep doing things in the fields in which I understand something.”

He said Russia was approaching the model of “Iran and North Korea” and would be able to sustain it for years.

The about-face

Western and Russian journalists have relied on Dmitri Trenin for independent assessments of Russian politics for at least 20 years. Until April, he was the head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a U.S.-funded think tank, which was shut down.

Before the war, Trenin said Putin was unlikely to invade because it would entail “great human and financial losses” and “a tremendous risk for Russia itself.” Now he says that it no longer matters if the decision to start the war was right and that Russians need to support their country.

“Either you stay with your people and in your country, or you leave,” he said. “My work was aimed at creating mutual understanding between America and Russia,” he added. “This has not happened.”

In Ukraine

In Russia

  • Nike said it would permanently leave Russia, after closing stores and halting online sales in March, the BBC reported.

Around the world

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Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Yana

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