EUROPEAN Union leaders have condemned Russia’s “unprovoked” military aggression but stopped short of putting Ukraine on a fast track to bloc membership.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for special membership, and his plea has support from Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuanian and Poland.

However, after a European Council (EC) summit in Versailles, which lasted into the early hours of Friday morning, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands were still unconvinced.

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In a statement published after hours of debate between European leaders, they acknowledged the “European aspirations and the European choice of Ukraine”- noting that it’s application had been “swiftly” transmitted to the EC for “its opinion”.

This is the initial stage of a long process towards being declared a candidate country, which would then lead to the start of membership talks.

However, the bloc still signalled the will to bring Ukraine closer to the EU politically while the process is underway.

The statement read: “Pending this and without delay, we will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path. Ukraine belongs to our European family.”

The EC was strong worded in its commitments to Ukraine - including political, financial and humanitarian support, as well as offering protection for refugees fleeing the conflict.

The National:

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said leaders at the summit were "shocked" by what is happening in Ukraine

A number of EU countries, led by the Netherlands, have insisted that there was no way to shortcut the length accession process - even for Ukraine whilst under active military attack from Russia.

Politico reports that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, as he left the summit on Friday morning, said: “I think we all acknowledged the enormously difficult situation Ukraine is in.

“Everyone is really shocked.”

He added that the EU was already treating Ukraine’s application with unprecedented speed, but said the EC’s assessment “will take time - months, maybe years, before you get to anything”.

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The leaders however did pledge other assistance to Ukraine, including EC President Charles Michel who highlighted a proposal to provide an additional €500 million through the EU’s European Peace Facility - which is being used to provide weapons and military equipment to the country.

They also pledge to help Ukraine rebuild after the war, presuming the country has not been occupied by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his forces.

The leaders stated: “We are committed to provide support for the reconstruction of a democratic Ukraine once the Russian onslaught has ceased.

“We are determined to increase even further our pressure on Russia and Belarus. We have adopted significant sanctions and remain ready to move quickly with further sanctions.”

The National:

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, whose country backs a fast-track membership for Ukraine, portrayed the outcome as a major breakthrough on social media.

He tweeted: “A historic night at Versailles.

“After five hours of heated discussions, EU leaders said yes to Ukrainian eurointegration.”

However, the specifics regarding Ukraine’s accession were fudged - in the statement there is reference made to “the relevant provisions of EU treaties”.

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As Politico reports, this allowed countries favouring Ukraine to claim a victory of sorts as the treaties set out the procedures for joining the bloc.

However, the treaties contain lots of other things - including the criteria for membership and that countries can only join with unanimous consent from all 27 existing members.

At the bottom of the statement, the leaders also noted that the Council had asked the EC to issue opinions on membership applications from Georgia and Moldova.