As Russia’s Vladimir Putin defended his war in Ukraine Monday, a top European Union official visited Ukraine, while France floated a possible new political alliance for Kyiv and other EU hopefuls.
It seemed like two different May 9ths Monday. In Moscow, a bellicose speech by Putin as Russia marked the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, 77 years ago. And in Strasbourg, France, the commemoration of Europe Day — and the foundation of the European Union, which has gained new attention with the war in Ukraine.
Speaking before the European Parliament, President Emmanuel Macron of France — the EU's current president — called for a new so-called "political European community" of democratic states around the bloc. That could include not only former EU members like Britain, but also countries that hope to join, such as Ukraine and Moldova.
Macron's call came as European Council President Charles Michel held video talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as Michel paid a surprise visit to the port city of Odesa — at one point ducking into an air raid shelter amid Russian missile strikes.
"Dear Ukrainian friends, I've come to Odesa on Europe Day with one simple message; you are not alone,” Michel said. "We stand with you. We will not let you down. We will be with you for as long as it takes."
The EU is expected to decide on Ukraine’s membership application in June. Even if Brussels greenlights the bid, it could take months or decades for Ukraine to join to bloc.
Macron offered no specifics to his "political community" proposal for Ukraine and other EU hopefuls. It’s not clear how much support he has among the bloc's 26 other members.
"Macron is trying to find a way, or at least propose a way, in between," said Christine Verger, vice president of the Jacques Delors Institute, a Paris-based think tank. "So those countries, without becoming members of the European Union, which would be extremely difficult in the coming years, nevertheless would have a European perspective."
Verger said it’s too early to say what the content of the new structure would be.
"But we can imagine that not only as far as values are concerned but also as far as policies are concerned, such as energy or foreign affairs issues, there could be agreements which wouldn’t mean necessarily to become a member of the European Union," Verger said.
Until now, the EU has mostly marched in lockstep in supporting Ukraine in the war and agreeing to ever-stronger sanctions against Russia. But EU member Hungary is now balking at plans for a Russian oil embargo, which, if passed, would be Europe’s strongest sanctions to date. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen was meeting with Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban Monday in a bid to change his mind.