Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy applauded the European Commission's recommendation to grant Ukraine candidate status for European Union membership, while Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the West for imposing sanctions on Moscow but played down the EU decision.
Putin spoke Friday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where he accused the West of "colonial arrogance" and trying to crush Russia with sanctions he described as "stupid."
However, he said he had "nothing against" Ukraine's bid to join the EU.
Putin said the "special military operation" in Ukraine will continue, and he emphasized Russia's sovereignty and strength when faced with what he called "Western hostility."
"In the current situation, against a backdrop of increasing risks for us and threats, Russia's decision to conduct a special military operation was forced — difficult, of course, but forced and necessary," Putin said.
He said the U.S. is trying to change "the course of history," and he accused the West of fanning anti-Russian sentiment and of "active military appropriation of Ukrainian territory."
He spoke as Russia continued its offensive in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region. Ukraine's military said Friday the attacks continue in the key cities of Sloviansk and Sievierodonetsk. Russia and its allies say they control about half of Donetsk and nearly all of Luhansk, the two regions that make up the Donbas. Sievierodonetsk and surrounding villages are in the last part of Luhansk that Ukraine still holds.
Ukraine joining EU?
The head of the European Union said Friday that Ukraine should be formally considered for candidate status.
"We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective," said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission's president, while wearing a jacket in Ukraine's national colors. "We want them to live with us the European dream."
Early Friday, Zelenskyy tweeted that he commends the decision, adding, "It's the 1st step on the EU membership path that'll certainly bring our Victory closer."
The recommendation is the first step in the long process of becoming a member of the 27-nation bloc. EU leaders will meet later this month to consider the commission's recommendation. The commission also recommended candidacy for Moldova, though not for Georgia.
Putin said Friday he is not opposed to Ukraine joining the EU because, unlike NATO, the EU is not a military alliance.
"We have nothing against it. It's their sovereign decision to join economic unions or not. ... It's their business, the business of the Ukrainian people," Putin said.
Ukraine applied to join the EU just days after Russian troops invaded the country.
Natural gas cuts
France is the latest country to be completely cut off from Russian natural gas. Moscow also has reduced supplies by half to Italy and Slovakia. Germany and Austria have also been hit. Europe gets about 40% of its gas from Russia.
The European nations are stockpiling their reserves to prepare for winter, as they use less gas during the summer. The EU wants its members to have their gas storage at 80% capacity, at least, by November.
Russia previously cut off natural gas to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Americans missing in Ukraine
President Joe Biden said Friday that he doesn't know the status of three Americans who are reportedly missing after volunteering to go to Ukraine to fight against the Russians.
We don't know where they are," he said. "Americans should not be going to Ukraine now. I'll say it again: Americans should not be going to Ukraine."
Russian state television showed video Friday of two of the missing men. It identified them as Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh.
The RT television report said the men were being held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
On Thursday, in an interview with The Associated Press, Biden said he's willing to pay a political price for his support for Ukraine. The United States imposed tough sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, and gas prices have since skyrocketed.
Biden said he is making decisions as commander in chief and not as a politician.
"I'm the president of the United States," he said. "It's not about my political survival. It's about what's best for the country."
Biden said there could be chaos in Europe if Russia keeps moving deeper into the continent without being challenged.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.