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Ukraine takes step toward EU membership as Russian forces tighten vise on Donbas cities

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KYIV, June 23 (Reuters) – Ukraine is set to be accepted as a candidate to join the European Union on Thursday, a move that boosts the country’s morale as Russian assaults wear down the defenders of two cities in the eastern Donbas region.

Although the approval of the Kyiv government’s application by EU leaders meeting in Brussels is just the start of what will be a years-long process, it marks a huge geopolitical shift and will anger Russia as it struggles to impose its will on Ukraine.

The expected green light “is a signal to Moscow that Ukraine, and also other countries from the former Soviet Union, cannot belong to the Russian spheres of influence,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, told Reuters.

Friday will mark four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” partly necessitated by Western encroachment into what Russia considers its sphere of influence.

The conflict, which the West sees as an unjustified war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities as well as having ramifications across much of the world as food and energy exports have been curtailed.

Russia has focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance on the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the conflict was thwarted by Ukrainian resistance.

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