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EU grants Ukraine candidate status in ‘historic moment’

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a special meeting of the European Council at The European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium May 30, 2022. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

By Sabine Siebold and Ingrid Melander

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union leaders formally accepted Ukraine as a candidate to join the 27-nation bloc on Thursday, a bold geopolitical move hailed by Ukraine and the EU itself as a “historic moment.”

Although it could take Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova more than a decade to qualify for membership, the decision at a two-day EU summit is a symbolic step that signals the bloc’s intention to reach deep into the former Soviet Union.

“Ukraine will prevail. Europe will prevail. Today marks the beginning of a long journey that we will walk together,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

The EU leaders’ unusually quick decision to give Ukraine candidate status was triggered by Russia’s invasion. EU leaders stressed, however, that the bloc will need a major overhaul of its decision-making process before it can enlarge again – and Ukraine and Moldova will have much “homework” to do.

“I am convinced that they will move as swiftly as possible and work as hard as possible to implement the necessary reforms, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the EU’s decision as “a unique and historic moment”, tweeting “Ukraine’s future is in the EU.”

The move, which also sees Moldova being granted candidate status, kick-starts the EU’s most ambitious expansion since it welcomed Eastern European states after the Cold War.

Behind the triumphant rhetoric, however, there is concern within the EU about how the bloc can remain coherent as it continues to enlarge.

After starting in 1951 as an organisation of six countries to regulate industrial production, the EU now has 27 members that face complex challenges from climate change and the rise of China to a war on their own doorstep.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his “special military operation” launched in Ukraine in late February was partly necessitated by Western encroachment into what Russia characterises as its rightful geographical sphere of influence.

The EU’s 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 EU ambassador, Chentsov Vsevolod, told Reuters earlier on Thursday.

BALKAN FRUSTRATION

While Ukraine and Moldova were welcomed into the EU’s waiting room, Georgia was given “a European perspective” but told it must fulfil conditions before winning candidate status.

Reticence over EU enlargement has slowed progress towards membership for a group of Balkans countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – whose leaders met their EU counterparts in Brussels earlier in the day.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, voicing their frustration, said as he arrived at that meeting: “Welcome to Ukraine, it’s a good thing to give candidate status, but I hope the Ukrainian people will not have much illusions about this.”

A draft of the summit statement showed that EU leaders would again give “full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans”.

But Ukraine’s fast track to formal candidate status has only served to increase their feeling of being sidelined, which carries the risk for the EU that Russia and China extend their influence into the Balkan region.

“The more the EU doesn’t give a unified and a clear sign to the Western Balkans, the more other malign factors will use that space and that vacuum,” Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said this week that the EU must “reform its internal procedures” to prepare for the accession of new members, singling out the need for key issues to be agreed with a qualified majority rather than by unanimity.

The requirement for unanimity often frustrates EU ambitions because member states can block decisions or water them down.

Despite waves of crises that have rocked the EU, from migration and Britain’s exit from the bloc, the union remains popular, with a survey this week showing approval for EU membership is at 15-year high.

Still, public discontent is mounting over inflation and an energy crisis as Russia tightens gas supplies in response to sanctions, issues for the second day of the summit on Friday.

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West pledges support for Ukraine as missiles strike shopping centre

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6/6

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A smoke rises over remains of a building destroyed by a military strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine June 17, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak

2/6

By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Western nations on Monday pledged unwavering support for Ukraine in the war with Russia and Ukrainian officials said 28 civilians were killed in Russian attacks, including a missile strike on a crowded shopping centre.

Leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies, meeting in Germany, said they would keep sanctions on Russia for as long as necessary and intensify international pressure on President Vladimir Putin’s government and its ally Belarus.

“Imagine if we allowed Putin to get away with the violent acquisition of huge chunks of another country, sovereign, independent territory,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

The United States said it was finalising another weapons package for Ukraine that would include long-range air-defence systems – arms that Zelenskiy specifically requested when he addressed the leaders by video link on Monday.

Ukraine endured another difficult day on the battlefront following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and street fighting.

Russian artillery was pounding Lysychansk, its twin across the Siverskyi Donets River. A Russian missile strike killed eight and wounded 21 others in the city on Monday, the area’s regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was no immediate Russian comment.

Lysychansk is the last big city still held by Ukraine in the eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv early in the war, now in its fifth month.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said the Russian forces were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south. Reuters could not confirm Russian reports that Moscow’s troops had already entered the city.

Southeast of Kyiv in the city of Kremenchuk, firefighters and soldiers were searching through debris for survivors after two missiles struck a shopping centre, killing at least 13 and wounding 40, Ukrainian officials said.

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening video address. He earlier said more than 1,000 people had been inside.

Russia has not commented on the Ukrainian accusations. Its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain Western sympathy ahead of a planned summit of the NATO military alliance.

“One should wait for what our Ministry of Defence will say, but there are too many striking discrepancies already,” Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR).

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the attack was “deplorable”. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called it the “latest in a string of atrocities”.

Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling had killed five in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and at least two in the eastern Donetsk province.

‘WE SENT HIM MESSAGES’

As night began to fall in Kremenchuk, rescuers brought lights and generators to continue the search. Family members, some close to tears and with hands over their mouths, lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base.

Kiril Zhebolovsky, 24, was looking for his friend, Ruslan, 22, who worked at the Comfy electronics store and had not been heard from since the blast.

“We sent him messages, called, but nothing,” he said. He left his name and phone number with the rescue workers in case his friend is found.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security. It denies targeting civilians in a conflict that has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing and laid waste to cities.

Russian forces also control territory in the south, including the port city of Mariupol, which fell after a long and devastating siege.

A senior U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Russia had carried out about 60 strikes against Ukraine over the weekend.

The official said a weekend strike in Kyiv that hit apartments was close to a factory that made munitions for Ukrainian forces.

In his address to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy asked again for more arms, U.S. and European officials said. He requested help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

The G7 nations promised to squeeze Russia’s finances further – including a deal to cap the price of Russian oil that a U.S. official said was “close” – and promised up to $29.5 billion more for Ukraine.

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” a G7 statement said.

The White House said Russia had defaulted on its external debt for the first time in more than a century as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system.

Russia rejected the claims, telling investors to go to Western financial agents for the cash which was sent but bondholders did not receive.

The war has created difficulties for countries way beyond Europe’s borders, with disruptions to food and energy exports hitting the global economy.

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U.S. abortion ruling ignites legal battles over state bans

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2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights campaigners participate in nationwide demonstrations following the leaked Supreme Court opinion suggesting the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, at Duncan Plaza in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.

2/2

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – Battles over abortion shifted to state courts on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure nationwide, as a judge blocked a statewide ban in Louisiana and clinics in Idaho, Kentucky and Texas sued seeking similar relief.

The four are among the 13 states with “trigger laws” designed to ban or severely restrict abortions once the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a right to the procedure, as it was on Friday.

In Louisiana, abortion services that had been halted since Friday began resuming after Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso on Monday issued a temporary restraining order https://tmsnrt.rs/3OEBEbG blocking the state from carrying out its ban.

The order came shortly after Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport – one of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics – sued, arguing Louisiana’s trigger laws “lack constitutionally required safeguards to prevent arbitrary enforcement.”

The judge set a July 8 hearing to decide whether to further block enforcement of the ban, which Hope Medical said violated its due process rights under the state’s constitution.

In Kentucky, two abortion clinics including a Planned Parenthood affiliate filed a state court challenge to an outright abortion ban enacted in 2019 and a separate six-week ban, saying they violated patients’ rights to privacy and self-determination under the state’s constitution.

In Idaho, a Planned Parenthood affiliate asked the state’s highest court to block enforcement of a “trigger” law banning abortion that the Republican-controlled state legislature passed in 2020 that would take effect Aug. 19.

And in Republican-led Texas, where a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect last year, a judge in Harris County will hear arguments on Tuesday on whether to block officials from enforcing pre-Roe v. Wade abortion prohibitions.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton had said in a Friday advisory that while the state’s 2021 trigger ban would not take effect for 30 days after the Supreme Court’s ruling, prosecutors could immediately pursue cases based on pre-1973 laws.

Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in a statement said his office was “fully prepared to defend these laws in our state courts, just as we have in our federal courts.”

His Republican counterparts in Kentucky and Idaho, Daniel Cameron and Lawrence Wasden, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Paxton.

The cases are among several challenging Republican-backed abortion laws under state constitutions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

A Utah branch of Planned Parenthood on Saturday sued over that state’s trigger ban, and abortion rights advocates plan to challenge an Ohio ban on abortions after six weeks that took effect on Friday.

In Florida, a group of abortion providers went before a state court judge to argue a challenge to that state’s new Republican-backed ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which they say violates Florida’s constitution.

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U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling ignites new legal battles over state bans

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2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights campaigners participate in nationwide demonstrations following the leaked Supreme Court opinion suggesting the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, at Duncan Plaza in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.

2/2

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) -Battles over abortion shifted to state courts on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure nationwide, as a judge blocked a statewide ban in Louisiana and clinics sued to obtain similar relief in Kentucky and Idaho.

The three are among the 13 states with “trigger laws” designed to ban or severely restrict abortions once the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a right to the procedure, as it was on Friday.

In Louisiana, abortion services that had been halted since Friday began resuming after Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso on Monday issued a temporary restraining order https://tmsnrt.rs/3OEBEbG blocking the state from carrying out its ban.

The order came shortly after Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport – one of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics – sued, arguing Louisiana’s trigger laws “lack constitutionally required safeguards to prevent arbitrary enforcement.”

The judge set a July 8 hearing to decide whether to further block enforcement of the ban, which Hope Medical said violated its due process rights under the state’s constitution.

In Kentucky, two abortion clinics including a Planned Parenthood affiliate filed a state court challenge https://tmsnrt.rs/3bxnue9 to an outright abortion ban enacted in 2019 and a separate six-week ban passed that same year.

The lawsuit argued the bans violate patients’ rights to privacy and self-determination under the state’s constitution.

In Idaho, a Planned Parenthood affiliate asked the state’s highest court to block enforcement of a “trigger” law banning abortion that the Republican-controlled state legislature passed in 2020 that would take effect Aug. 19.

Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in a statement said his office was “fully prepared to defend these laws in our state courts, just as we have in our federal courts.”

His Republican counterparts in Kentucky and Idaho, Daniel Cameron and Lawrence Wasden, did not respond to requests for comment.

The cases are among several challenging Republican-backed abortion laws under state constitutions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

A Utah branch of Planned Parenthood on Saturday sued over that state’s trigger ban, and abortion rights advocates plan to challenge an Ohio ban on abortions after six weeks that took effect on Friday.

In Florida, a group of abortion providers went before a state court judge to argue a challenge to that state’s new Republican-backed ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which they say violates Florida’s constitution.

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