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Can Ukraine join EU and how long would it take?

As Russian President Putin continues his invasion to take control, Ukrainian President Zelenskiy is pushing ahead with new European membership.

Can Ukraine join EU and how long would it take?

The last thing that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants is for Ukraine to join the European Union. That would change everything, scuppering the chances of him achieving one of his key objectives. But as the dictator continues to wage war against his neighbour, the opposition leader is pressing ahead with his own plans to join the bloc.

And it may be that Russia's invasion has actually worked against them, potentially accelerating membership agreements for Ukraine.

More on the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

Zelenskiy signs request to join EU

European Union leaders could be set to discuss the possibility of Ukrainian membership at an informal summit in March, a senior EU official has said, via Reuters, adding that the issue was important for Ukraine in discussions with Russia on ending the conflict. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday that he had signed an official request for Ukraine to join the bloc.

"I think one of the reasons that this is important for President Zelenskiy is also potentially in some of the discussions with Russia on a way out," the official said referring to talks to end the conflict.

But he added that no process had been started yet.

"On the application (of Ukraine for EU membership) I think it's important not to get ahead of ourselves," the official, who asked not to be named, said. "It obviously has not yet been received, but this whole question of the Ukraine situation is something that's very much on the minds of the leaders."

Short-term battle, longer-term membership plan

The bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrell said the immediate priority was to provide practical support to Ukraine to counter the Russia invasion, rather than discussing long-term issues which could take years.

"We have to provide an answer for the coming hours, not for the coming years," he told reporters on Monday when asked about Ukraine's membership of the EU. "Ukraine has clearly a European perspective, but now we have to fight against an aggression."

The chairman of EU leaders Charles Michel and the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen will meet French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris on Monday evening for talks.

"So I'm sure this will come up in those discussions. And of course we have quite imminently, on the 10th and 11th of March, an informal European Council meeting and I would imagine that the Ukraine topic, which is occupying many leaders' minds, will feature at some point in those discussions," the official said.

Russia invasion may have worked against them

Ukraine has an association agreement with the 27-nation bloc but wants to become a full member - something that Russia is opposed to. Ukraine's membership has so far not been discussed so as not to antagonise Moscow, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed things, the official said.

"This unprecedented Russian aggression that we're seeing against Ukraine, the strong condemnation of this we've seen by the EU, the outrage in the European Union, member states, public opinion -- I think that is also likely to be a factor that will determine the way in which we respond (to a membership application)," the official said.

"If you go to the origins of some of this standoff, there were a large number of people who were prepared to lay down their lives for a European perspective that was at the heart of the Maidan demonstrations (in Kyiv in 2013-14)," the official said.

"I think in any agreement that President Zelenskiy may reach with President Putin, seeking assurances, or getting a guarantee if you like, that there is a support, understanding for Ukraine belonging one day to the European Union, is likely to be very important for the Ukrainian people," he said.

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa expressed "full support" for a speedier EU membership procedure for Ukraine, while Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said it was necessary to give a clear signal that Ukraine was welcome, CTK news agency cited him as saying on Monday.

Support grows for Ukraine's EU membership

The presidents of eight central and eastern European nations called on EU member states to immediately grant Ukraine a EU candidate country status and open membership talks according to an open letter published on Monday.

"We, the Presidents of the EU member states: the Republic of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Poland, the Slovak Republic, and the Republic of Slovenia strongly believe that Ukraine deserves receiving an immediate EU accession perspective," the letter said.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio also joined the positive calls saying that it was a legitimate move.

"I think the Ukrainian request to join the EU is a legitimate request," Di Maio said in an interview with RAI state television.

"I am convinced ... that in Ukraine European citizens are dying and suffering under the Russian bombs. We have to be on their side."

EU continues Russia sanctions

Around the globe, nations are taking their stance against Russia and on Monday the EU took another collective step. In its official journal it was announced that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov is among 26 prominent people sanctioned for the invasion.

The listings include oligarchs and businessmen active in the oil, banking and finance sectors, as well as government members, high-level military people, and "propagandists who contributed to spread anti-Ukrainian propaganda," the EU said in a statement.

Among the listed persons are Igor Sechin, the boss of Russia's state oil company Rosneft, and the chief executive of energy giant Transneft, Nikolay Tokarev. Oligarchs Alisher Usmanov, Petr Aven and Alexander Ponomarenko and the banker Mikhail Fridman are also included in the sanction list.

The list includes Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, other members of the Russian government and top journalists.

The restrictive measures include travel bans, an asset freeze and a prohibition from making funds available to the listed individuals. This round of sanctions hit also the Gas Industry Insurance Company SOGAZ.