EU set to promise Ukraine support but not quick accession
Senior EU officials in Kyiv for summit
Air raid alerts issued across Ukraine
EU leaders pledge more support for Ukraine in war
EU not expected to secure quick path to EU accession
By Max Hunder
KYIV, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Air raid sirens wailed on Friday morning as European Union and Ukrainian leaders gathered for a summit, with Kyiv set to win pledges of further support but not a promise of quick accession to the wealthy bloc.
Air raid alerts sounded in the capital and across the country but there were no immediate reports of Russian missile strikes as the summit was due to start in Kyiv, shortly before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, chairman of the 27 EU national leaders, were in Kyiv for the talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
"The EU will support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people against Russia's ongoing war of aggression for as long as it takes," the three leaders will say in a joint statement, a draft of which was seen by Reuters.
EU leaders will promise Ukraine more financial, military and political aid. Talks were expected to focus on improving access for Ukrainian products to the EU market, helping Ukraine cover its energy needs after weeks of Russian air strikes, new sanctions on Moscow and prosecuting Russian leaders for the war.
But the next round of EU sanctions against Russia is widely expected not to meet Ukraine's expectations and the EU is not expected to grant Kyiv fast-track to membership while at war.
Kyiv applied to become an EU member shortly after Russian invasion and wants to start formal accession talks as soon as possible.
CALL FOR UNWAVERING SUPPORT
After separate talks on Thursday with von der Leyen and members of the European Commission, the EU executive, Zelenskiy said in his nightly address that Ukraine needed unwavering support in the war.
"I believe that Ukraine deserves to reach the beginning of negotiations on EU membership this year already," he said.
The EU, however, has not committed to any dates, instead underlining the need for Ukraine to step up its fight against endemic corruption, reform the judiciary to free it from political meddling, and strengthen its economy.
Multiple political, economic and legal entry criteria mean the process takes years. The EU's eastward expansion also faces resistance from some EU states including France and is opposed by Moscow, which portrays the former Soviet republic's accession to Western institutions as a threat to Russia's security.
EU officials speak of "managing expectations" on quick accession as Moscow wages war on Ukraine. (Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Timothy Heritage)