Ukraine should be granted EU candidate status, the European Commission has recommended, a first step on the long road towards membership for the war-torn country.
The Commission's backing for Ukraine to join the European Union is a big symbolic move for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is seeking more support from the West in his country's fight against Russia.
The recommendation from the EU’s executive arm will now be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels - it's the start of a process that could take decades.
Launching accession talks for a country to enter the bloc requires unanimous approval from all member countries.
Moldova and Georgia were also recommended for EU candidacy by the Commission.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia share the strong and legitimate aspiration of joining the European Union.
"Today, we are sending them a clear signal of support in their aspirations, even as they face challenging circumstances."
She added: "This is a historic day for the people of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. We are confirming that they belong, in due time, in the European Union. The next steps are now in the hands of our member states.”
It comes a day after four European Union leaders vowed to back Kyiv’s candidacy.
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania all met President Zelenskyy in Kyiv this week and told him his country deserves "immediate" EU membership.
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"Ukraine belongs to the European family," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a joint briefing in Kyiv.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who is now deputy head of the Kremlin Security Council, dismissed the European leaders as “connoisseurs of frogs, liver and pasta” and said their visit brought no benefit.
“Again they promised EU membership and old howitzers, slammed down some vodka and, like 100 years ago, took the train home," he tweeted. "And that’s all good. It’s just that this doesn’t bring Ukraine any closer to peace. And the clock is ticking."
President Zelenskyy, speaking alongside Ms von der Leyen leader on Thursday, said: “Russia is only looking for new ways to scare Europe and seize more and more of our land."
He added: “The goal of Russia in this war is to break Ukraine and through this break the whole of Europe.”