It’s not often that professional translators start weeping in the middle of a politician’s speech, but then again, Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t just give any political speech. In an impassioned plea to the European Union, the embattled president of Ukraine begged for immediate entry as “equal members of Europe” as a rebuke to Vladimir Putin. “We have proven our strength,” Zelensky declared, and it’s time for the EU to “prove you’re Europeans”:
"We desire to see our children alive. I think it's a fair one."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was met with a standing ovation from the European Parliament after a powerful speech that caused the EU translator on the English language feed to choke up with emotion. pic.twitter.com/kTlBGO6GEq
— CNN (@CNN) March 1, 2022
This followed a speech yesterday from Zelensky to Ukrainians on the same topic. Zelensky signed Ukraine’s official application to join the EU while under fire in Kyiv and then spoke to his country about the stakes involved:
In a passionate speech aimed at rallying Ukrainians to continue to defend their country and encouraging further international support, he thanked E.U. countries that have decided to supply arms to Ukraine over the past few days and said he had spoken to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, to urge her to take “even stronger steps.”
“We appeal to the European Union for Ukraine’s immediate accession under a new special procedure,” Zelensky said in a video broadcast from the capital, Kyiv. “Our goal is to stand alongside all Europeans and, most importantly, to stand on their level.”
The European Union wants Ukraine to join the bloc “over time,” Ms. von der Leyen said in an interview with Euronews on Saturday, although she gave no indication of timing.
The EU has stepped up rather boldly in the face of Putin’s aggression — far more boldly, in fact, than many predicted. The shock of open war on the continent for the first time in a generation, and on a scale not seen since World War II, has opened eyes about the nature of Putin’s regime and the precarious security position in Europe. Adding a new member at this point might be asking a lot, however, especially considering the financial implications even if Ukraine manages to beat the Russians in the field, an unthinkable outcome a week ago but at least possible at the moment.
Reception of Zelensky’s application was mixed at best, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday before his latest emotional appeal:
The EU membership process can take years and involves broad economic, judicial and political changes. Even Balkan countries, like North Macedonia, that are carrying out such changes have spent years waiting for permission to even begin negotiations.
A number of EU capitals, including France, are wary of accepting any new members. …
With EU leaders such as Ursula von der Leyen saying she hoped Ukraine would in the future join the club, member-state ambassadors discussed Monday morning whether an offer could be made for Ukraine to win official candidate status.
Those discussions were inconclusive. Given the length of time any membership process would take, several EU ambassadors were doubtful that even offering candidate status was a useful step, according to people briefed on the discussion.
However, others are supportive of offering candidate status and making a clear statement that Ukraine could join the bloc in the future.
“In the future” is a concept that doesn’t give Ukrainians any comfort today. The future and the past is entirely in the present — a present where Russia has begun massive bombing of civilian population centers.
One could ask what practical use EU membership has for Ukraine. It does not confer (necessarily) security guarantees against outside military aggression. One could argue that it surrenders some sovereignty at the precise moment that Zelensky and Ukraine are fighting for self-determination as a sovereign nation, and that might be an irony worthy of mention.
However, Zelensky understands that this goes to the heart of the conflict, and attacks Putin at the core of his mission. Is Ukraine Russian, or is Ukraine European? Zelensky and his country have made their choice in the streets of Kyiv and Kharkiv, and all they want from the EU is their recognition that Ukraine is European rather than a vassal Russian state. That might be nice for the EU to decide before the Russians kill any more of Ukraine’s children.