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Ukraine's integration into the EU will preserve the unity of Europe, – Ihor Petrenko

Ukraine's movement into the civilizational space of Europe will create a powerful outpost of defense against Russia and will serve as a factor in preserving the unity of the EU. This was stated by Ihor Petrenko, Doctor of Political Science, expert of the United Ukraine Analytical Center, in an article on the website. The text of the article can be found below.

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has confirmed Putin's desire to resume territorial expansion. Putin's war against Ukraine is a challenge to the civilized West, especially Europe. Russia is trying to weaken the EU in a comprehensive manner: energy and food blackmail, provoking an influx of refugees, promoting international terrorism, financing extremist and radical groups in the EU – this is not a complete list of hybrid tools used by the Kremlin to destroy Europe.

The war started by Putin has changed the picture of the world, caused turbulent processes in the political, economic, and security environment, the consequences of which are difficult to predict. Putin provokes contradictions in the modern world and worsens the socio-economic situation. The EU cannot distance itself from such threats: Russia directly influences the growth of revanchist, populist, and extremist sentiments in Europe, increases discontent and frustration among Europeans, which may eventually split the EU, which must respond to the Russian threat and take the necessary steps to protect itself.

In southeastern Ukraine, which has become the largest theater of operations in Europe since World War II, Russia continues to wage fierce fighting. The longer this war lasts, the more confident Putin is in his impunity and his ability to continue to wage wars of aggression, including against CEE countries. The ongoing hostilities allow Putin to achieve two goals: to keep Ukraine outside of the supranational institutions of the West and to develop a foothold for further hybrid and eventually military threats to Europe. This is the greatest danger of Ukraine's non-accession to the EU: in the context of the Kremlin's geopolitical revenge, which manifests itself in the form of a war of aggression, Ukraine outside Europe and its supranational institutions automatically turns into a springboard for a Russian offensive against the EU. The world that existed before Russia's full-scale invasion no longer exists, and Ukraine, as a "buffer zone" between Russia and Europe, will become an instrument of the latter's gradual destruction. If Ukraine becomes a member of the EU and NATO, it will be a guarantee of the preservation of the civilized West and its successful resistance to Russia.

On February 28, 2022, shortly after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, Ukraine applied for EU membership, which was supported by the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council. In June 2022, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status. By then, support for the idea of joining the EU among Ukrainians had risen to 91%, the highest figure since Ukraine's independence. The growth of pro-European views among Ukrainians was driven by the Russian invasion, which removed illusions about the Kremlin's true intentions to occupy Ukraine. The invasion came as a shock to Europeans, who did not expect Putin to be capable of a 21st-century war of aggression, accompanied by mass murder and destruction of populated areas. Accordingly, the EU made pessimistic forecasts about Ukraine's ability to overcome the challenges and threats posed by the war. For example, it was predicted that in 2022 the Ukrainian economy would decline by 50%, and there were suggestions of an imminent collapse of the banking system and unprecedented inflation. In practice, Ukraine overcame all the challenges: the economy shrank by 30%, not 50%, and the national currency, the hryvnia, after a temporary drop in 2022, strengthened by 10% in Q1 2023 amid the ongoing war. The banking sector has also withstood: during the war, there were only 4 fewer banking institutions in Ukraine, and 67 of them continue to operate, 46 of which ended 2022 with a positive balance. Overall, the country managed to maintain control over the economic situation. Ukraine surprised Europe and passed the exam to be called a strong and sovereign state. In the midst of a full-scale war, Ukraine preserved its economy and social sphere, made all necessary payments, and managed to save a key industry segment. Not every country in Europe would have been able to meet such challenges in a hypothetical war with an asymmetrically strong enemy.

The EU will benefit from Ukraine's membership in many ways. These include cooperation in energy, logistics, industry, digital technologies, food exports from Ukraine, and more. The common border between Ukraine and the EU is 1,358 kilometers long and has 33 checkpoints. This opens up a wide range of opportunities for cross-border cooperation.

The energy sector is a priority: since March 16, 2022, the Ukrainian power system has been synchronized with the European continental network ENTSO-N. Despite the hostilities, Ukraine continued to export electricity to Poland, Slovakia, and Romania until October 2022. In March 2023, Ukraine resumed selling electricity to the EU - if the war ends, Ukrainian electricity could become available to half of Europe.

Ukraine's agricultural potential is of particular importance. Russia is seeking to cause a global food crisis that will inevitably affect the EU. Ukraine is one of the key producers of food, particularly grain. In early 2022, inflation accelerated to record levels in some EU economies. In March, Europe experienced an "inflationary shock" that was exacerbated by the Kremlin's "energy blockade" and the blocking of Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea. Russia had calculated in advance this blow to Europe, for which the latter was completely unprepared. Unprecedented gas prices have led to a decline in industrial production in the EU, including in Germany, which is the flagship of the EU economies. The blockade of Ukrainian food exports provoked a rise in food prices in the EU, hitting the vulnerable. Accordingly, Ukraine will become a reliable food supplier within the EU.

Also, Ukraine has an outstanding experience in combating Russian propaganda and can help Europe identify and neutralize information threats from Russia. The creation of a digital single market between Ukraine and the EU will facilitate economic cooperation, which will become a priority for the EU after the war. For now, the main goal for the West should be to integrate Ukraine into its civilizational space and localize the Russian threat within its own borders.

The longstanding fear of Russia and the reluctance to accept Ukraine into NATO and the EU in order not to provoke Putin has caused the opposite reaction and played a cruel joke on Europe. The refusal to grant Ukraine the MAP during the NATO summit in Bucharest was the starting point for Putin's cycle of wars of aggression, which he began with the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the occupation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014. Western hesitancy to respond to these blatant acts of aggression in Europe emboldened Putin to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. His goal now is to create a powerful anti-Western coalition and ultimately to turn the entire Global South against the Global North. With regard to the EU, Russia is using the above list of hybrid threats, which should primarily weaken and split this supranational association.

If Russia does provoke a split in the EU, it will inevitably weaken NATO and make it less capable of defending itself, which in the medium term could lead to Russian troops invading the Baltic states and Poland. Unlike Europe, Putin does not reckon with demographic and economic losses and is ready to continue the war for years, his dream is to see the Russian army near the English Channel. In 2021, no one believed in the possibility of a full-scale war by Russia. If Ukraine is not admitted to the EU and NATO as soon as possible, Russian tanks will be driving around European cities. The EU and NATO accession procedure should be adapted to the current Russian threat, which the West has not experienced in its modern history. Moving Ukraine into its civilizational space will create a powerful outpost of defense against Russia and will serve as a factor in preserving the unity of Europe.

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