The European Union officially made Ukraine a candidate for membership on Thursday, signaling in the face of a devastating Russian military onslaught that it sees Ukraine’s future as lying in an embrace of the democratic West.

While Ukraine’s accession into the bloc could take a decade or more, the decision sends a powerful message of solidarity to Kyiv and a rebuke to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has worked for years to keep Ukraine from building Western ties.

Before Putin launched the invasion in February, insisting that Ukraine rightly belonged in Russia’s orbit, EU leaders would not have seriously considered starting Ukraine, with its history of oligarchy and corruption, on the path to membership.