EU approves start of talks with Ukraine and Moldova

European Union countries have formally approved the launch of accession negotiations with war-torn Ukraine and Moldova, another step in the two nations' long journey to join the 27-nation bloc.

Belgium, which holds the presidency of the European Union, said member states had agreed on a negotiating framework.

"This opens the way for launching the negotiations on Tuesday 25 June in Luxembourg," the Belgian presidency said on Friday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the approval for his country and Moldova, calling it a "significant step toward our shared European future".

"Ukraine is returning to Europe, where it has belonged for centuries, as a full-fledged member of the European community," he said in a post on social platform X.

Talks will be launched with two intergovernmental conferences.

Following a positive assessment from the EU's executive branch, EU leaders had already agreed in 2023 that accession negotiations should start with both countries.

The process between the start of negotiations with Ukraine and its neighbor Moldova and their becoming members of the EU could take many years.

To join the EU, candidate countries must go through a lengthy process to align their laws and standards with those of the bloc and show that their institutions and economies meet democratic norms.

Ukraine is one of several countries that have long wanted to join the EU, seeing it as a path to wealth and stability.

While the EU is not a military alliance like NATO, membership in the bloc is seen by some as a rampart against Russian influence.

Ukraine officially applied for EU accession less than a week after Russia invaded it in February 2022.

The opening of talks sends another strong signal of solidarity with Ukraine in addition to the huge financial support provided by the EU.

Moldova has repeatedly accused Russia of conducting a "hybrid war" against the country, meddling in local elections and running vast disinformation campaigns to try to topple the government and derail its path toward joining the EU.

Russia has denied the accusations, but the Moldovan government is wary of Moscow's intentions, particularly after Transnistrian authorities appealed to Moscow in February for "protection" due to what they said was increased pressure from the government.