Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Olha Stefanishyna, said Wednesday she's "100%" certain all EU nations will approve Ukraine's candidacy for membership as early as Thursday, the first day of the European Union leaders summit in Belgium.
The EU's executive arm threw its weight behind Ukraine's candidacy last week. Stefanishyna described the European Commission's endorsement as "a game-changer" that had taken the ground out from under "the legs of those most hesitating."
EU candidate status doesn't mean Ukraine is guaranteed membership and does not provide the military guarantees provided by NATO membership.
Stefanishyna told The Associated Press that she thinks Ukraine could be an EU member within years, not the decades that some European officials have forecast. "We're already very much integrated in the European Union," she said, adding: "We want to be a strong and competitive member state, so it may take from two to 10 years."
Ukraine has already implemented about 70% of EU rules, norms, and standards, European officials have said. They warned that the country needs political and economic reforms, pointing to corruption.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said gaining EU membership would be a "crucial moment" for Ukraine.
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►Germany activated the second phase of its three-stage emergency plan for natural gas supplies Thursday, saying Europe's biggest economy faces a "crisis" and warning that storage targets for the winter are at risk due to dwindling deliveries from Russia.
►The conflict in Ukraine has "sounded an alarm for humanity," Chinese President Xi Jinping said Wednesday. China has refused to condemn Russia's invasion while criticizing sanctions brought against Moscow.
►EU leaders will debate Thursday a recommendation for the European Commission to grant Moldova - a tiny, non-NATO country that borders Ukraine - EU candidate status.
Estonian PM Kaja Kallas says don't play down Russia
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has told The Associated Press that the West shouldn't underestimate Russia's military capabilities in Ukraine, saying Moscow is in it for the long haul as the war enters its fifth month.
Kallas said in an interview Wednesday that Europe should ensure that those committing war crimes and attempted genocide are prosecuted, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin escaped punishment for annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and supporting an insurgency in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region that killed over 14,000 people even before this year's war began.
"I've heard talks that, you know, there is no threat anymore because they have exhausted themselves. No, they haven't," she said of the Russian military, which failed to take Kyiv in the early stages of the war and is now concentrating its firepower in the east.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: EU-wide support expected for candidacy to join bloc