The E.U. has backed candidate status for Ukraine. Here’s what that means.

BRUSSELS – European leaders meeting Thursday formally backed EU candidate status for Ukraine, in a historic moment for the bloc and a major morale boost for Kyiv amid war with Russia. The European Parliament also backed the historic move in a vote Thursday.

Ukraine has long pushed for a path to membership, but Russia’s invasion added a new sense of urgency. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for special consideration, an idea backed by some member states and strongly opposed by others.

In a matter of months, Zelensky’s personal appeals, dogged Ukrainian diplomacy and support from high-profile EU officials and leaders have made what seemed like a long shot feel almost inevitable. Heading into Thursday’s summit, all 27 members states expressed support for the idea of ​​granting Ukraine candidate status, according to officials and diplomats, with conditions to be met later.

Support for Ukrainian candidacy does not grant membership but would be a first step on the long and difficult road to joining the bloc. Full membership would still be years or even decades away.

Moldova was also granted candidacy Thursday.

Ukraine’s push has revived the enlargement debate more broadly. Georgia will be considered after additional conditions are met. “It is time to acknowledge that the future of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia lies within the EU,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote in an invitation letter to the meetings.

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