Adding to Russian President Vladimir Putin's geopolitical woes a week into his invasion of Ukraine, two former Soviet republics joined Ukraine on Thursday in requesting admittance to the European Union.
Leaders from Georgia and Moldova, countries that have a history of territorial disputes with Russia that could impede their entrance, submitted their applications to join the 27-country bloc, beginning a process that typically takes years.
“The time is now: Moldova officially signs the application for membership to join the European Union,” Moldovan President Maia Sandu said. “Citizens are prepared to work hard towards a stable and prosperous future in the EU and the family of European states.”
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During a lengthy speech about Ukraine last month on the eve of Russia's invasion, Putin lamented the westward drift of former Soviet states. He denounced the West for being hostile to Russia and allowing countries on his border to join NATO. His belligerence in Ukraine appears to have propelled even more formerly Soviet-aligned nations to the West.
“Georgia is a European state,” Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said. “Our country has always belonged to European culture and civilized space throughout its long history and continues to make a valuable contribution to its protection and development.”
In 2008, Russia attacked Georgia in response to its president sending troops to quell rebels in Ossetia. Russia backed the rebels during a five-day war and allowed two provinces in the country to break away, Foreign Policy reported. The dispute with Russia is likely to weigh heavily on the minds of EU members as they deliberate over Georgia's application.
Moldova went to war with Russia-backed separatist rebels nearly 30 years ago over territory in Transnistria, a region near its border with Ukraine. The war ended on paper with a ceasefire agreement in 1992, but hostilities between the two parties continue to this day, Balkan Insight reported. Russia has since provided support to Transnistria, which effectively remains a breakaway Russia-aligned region. Most countries in the United Nations recognize Transnistria as part of Moldova.
Georgia's and Moldova's applications to the EU piggyback off Ukraine's plea to join the bloc Monday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for Ukraine to receive a fast-tracked admittance to the union in light of the nation's war against Russia.
The heads of EU governments are set to meet in Versailles, France, next week and are expected to discuss the three applications during an informal summit. There are several additional nations that have been negotiating entry into the EU, including Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia. Most of those countries began their application processes about a decade ago. Kosovo is also mulling whether to try and join the union in light of Russia's war in Ukraine.
Enlargement is a contentious topic among EU members due to its effect on the European economy and immigration. Several years ago, the United Kingdom initiated its exit from the EU, the so-called Brexit. At the time, this sparked concerns that other EU countries could break off and weaken the EU. But Russia's invasion appears to have upended notions of this perceived slump.
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Backlash to Russia's invasion has also led countries to consider joining NATO, which previously denied immediate admittance for both Ukraine and Georgia, as Western leaders feared admittance would alienate Russia. Finland and Sweden, which had long tried to remain neutral in the West's wrangling with Russia, are mulling over whether to request to join the alliance. Kosovo is also evaluating the possibility of joining the military alliance.