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Leaders from all 27 countries in the European Union are expected to meet today and vote unanimously to grant “candidate” status to the nation of Ukraine as it seeks to join the alliance. This may sound like bigger news to some people than it actually is because being recognized as a candidate for membership is only the first step on a long, byzantine path that must be followed before a country can actually become a member. The votes will also serve as an awkward reminder that there were many nations expressing serious reservations about Ukraine’s qualifications for membership prior to the invasion. What clearly seems to be happening here is yet another example of how the entire EU is desperate to look like they are “doing everything they can” to help Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression. Even if this turns out to be a done deal, it will basically be meaningless in terms of the military defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty. (Associated Press)

European Union leaders on Thursday are set to grant Ukraine candidate status to join the 27-nation bloc, a first step in a long and unpredictable journey toward full membership that could take many years to achieve.

Making the war-torn country a contender now seems to be a done deal after leaders were initially divided on how fast they could move to embrace the war-torn country’s bid that was launched only a few days after Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24.

According to several EU diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity before the summit in Brussels, Ukraine will receive the unanimous approval that is required for the launch of discussions.

The key phrase in the excerpt above is “launch of discussions.” As already noted, this is not a vote to approve Ukraine’s application to join the EU. It’s a procedural step to allow all of the member nations to begin discussing the possibility of Ukraine eventually joining the union. Even if that eventually happens, as long as Ukraine is still an “applicant,” the mutual defense clause in the EU Charter would not apply to them.

Up until now, there were member nations who had serious questions about Ukraine’s viability as a qualifying member. The Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark had all previously expressed skepticism, but that was largely seen as a result of their stated policies of neutrality when it came to Russia. Now that they are pretty much all-in on a unified NATO front, that probably isn’t the case anymore.

But those were not the only concerns being raised. Unless the members are ready to look like total hypocrites in the name of pushing back against Russia, the Ukrainian government will need to address “essential political and economic conditions” that have previously been criticized. Ukraine will need to demonstrate “basic democratic principles” and the rule of law, along with being able to document how they are following literally 80,000 pages worth of rules covering nearly every aspect of governance.

Prior to the invasion, European nations were questioning the level of corruption inside the Ukrainian government. As far as the rule of law goes, it has frequently been pointed out that Zelensky had one of his chief political rivals thrown in prison without much in the way of due process and on rather ambiguous charges. Before he became the new Caped Crusader of the Free World, Zelenski was running a government that was up to some pretty sketchy activities. He would have to be able to show that he’s really cleaned up his act to be seen as a legitimate contender to be a member of the EU today.

If this application process follows the “normal” course for nations applying to join the EU, the process will take many years or even decades. How long will the war drag on? It seems almost impossible that it could still be raging ten years from now. And once the war is over, will the EU members still be in this much of a rush to welcome Ukraine as a member? That seems far from certain.