Ukraine and neighboring Moldova were formally accepted as candidates to join the European Union on Thursday, European Council chief Charles Michel announced Tuesday, calling it a "historic moment."
While it may take the two nations more than a decade to qualify for membership, Reuters reported, it comes nearly four months after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine.
The EU's acceptance "is a signal to Moscow that Ukraine, and also other countries from the former Soviet Union, cannot belong to the Russian spheres of influence," Ukraine's EU ambassador Chentsov Vsevolod said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted in response to the EU's announcement, "Sincerely commend EU leaders’ decision... Ukraine’s future is within the EU."
Moldovan President Maia Sandu also celebrated the news, calling it an "unequivocal & strong signal of support for our citizens and #Moldova's European future."
While Ukraine has been battling Russia for months, Moldova is also at risk of facing the Kremlin's wrath as its breakaway region of Transnistria has close ties to Moscow.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg said in April that he believes "Putin in his grand scheme would like to go to Odessa and Moldova... And then that puts them right on the border of Romania, which is a NATO ally. I think that's an ultimate goal."