While not too long ago, some Western European capitals were still prioritizing Russian interests over Ukraine's EU accession goals, attitudes have since changed — and Ukraine should be granted EU candidate country status, Estonian Foreign Policy Institute Director Kristi Raik said on ETV's "Terevisioon" on Wednesday.
"The topic is one that has been debated in the EU for years already," Raik said. "[The EU] should have given Ukraine candidate country status in 2004 already, when the Orange Revolution took place. This has been argued about repeatedly for 18 years already, with no consensus reached. Dramatic changes have taken place now, so we should make this decision."
According to the institute director, it will initially be a question of granting Ukraine candidate country status.
"Estonia knows firsthand how lengthy the process is from accession talks to achieving full member state status," she recalled. "The EU could offer [Ukraine] a special status or perspective, which the Ukrainians need right now. This would be of both symbolic and moral importance to them."
Raik added that there is a great deal of legislation involved in the union, and it's unlikely that Ukraine wants or is capable of participating in talks regarding EU agricultural or fishing rules right now.
"What's important right now is what we can offer right away to ensure that they feel like they are part of the European family," she said. "The EU's positions have changed in rhetoric, but now something concrete must be done to convince the Ukrainians that Europe's position has changed."
Raik said that there were several reasons why Ukraine's accession goals have dragged on for so long.
"Ukraine itself has had a lot of homework to do — all of those criteria to fulfill," she explained. "There are also EU member states who are approaching plans for further enlargement of the union with caution following the big Eastern enlargement [in 2004], in which we were also included. The fear is that the EU isn't yet capable of digesting a big member state who is a little different."
A third factor, according to Raik, is geopolitics, although this isn't discussed so publicly.
"After the Orange Revolution, Western European capitals said that it isn't worth upsetting Russia," she said. "The EU itself has not yet been prepared to treat Ukraine as a fully sovereign state, and Russian interests have been kept in mind. Some have said that these are even legitimate interests. This attitude is thankfully changing now."
Ultimately, it is up to 27 member states to provide Ukraine with an EU perspective.
"While the perspective of accession has been discussed fairly in vain during these years, the EU and Ukraine's ties have become closer," Raik said. "This is the first time that it is being felt in Europe that Ukraine is fighting for all of us. Defending us from Russia. And that creates a different kind of situation."
Another major change, she added, is that the EU is prepared to provide Ukraine with military aid.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday signed a formal application for Ukraine to join the EU.
Editor: Aili Vahtla