“There is no security in Europe if there is no security in Ukraine.” With this phrase, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has clearly shown this Wednesday the support of the European Union to the eastern European country by speaking about the open conflict between Russia and Ukraine for almost eight years and that it has heated up a lot in recent months with the presence on the Russian side of the border of some 100,000 soldiers sent by the Kremlin. In addition, these words of the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the EU contain a message for the Kremlin: it cannot aspire to solve the strategic questions that affect the rest of Europe “without counting on the Europeans”.
The European Union is trying to avoid a return to a scenario of international politics in which the great powers share their spheres of influence without counting on the other countries. “We are not in the time of Yalta,” Borrell has proclaimed in reference to the famous conference of 1945, when in the closing stages of World War II the then US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, divided up their respective areas of control in Europe. “The delimitation of the spheres of influence is not a question of 2021 or 2022. The security of Europe and the security of Ukraine, because Ukraine is part of Europe, is what worries Ukrainians and Europeans,” stressed the high EU representative after a visit to the line that separates the Ukrainian forces from the pro-Russian fighters in the Donbas region.
In recent weeks, Brussels has stressed that it intends to increase its influence in the resolution of this conflict. In December, the Heads of State and Government of the 27, at the last European Council of the year, warned Russia that they would impose “huge sanctions” if it invades Ukraine. The same warning was recalled this Wednesday by Borrell, but this time before the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who stressed the importance of European support. For the Executive of Kiev, the visit of the senior EU official to the Donbas region is “very important, right now”. And he agreed with Borrell that spheres of influence policies “are the past.”
“It is the first time that a high representative of the bloc has visited Donbas since Russia launched the war. It is a sign of the unity of Ukraine and the European Union in the face of the great threats from Russia, ”said Kuleba, who traveled with Borrell to the conflict zone in the east of the country. “They have recently included Ukraine in the European Peace Fund, which will allocate 31 million euros to improve the capabilities of our Armed Forces to defend themselves,” the minister stressed about the support from Brussels.
In helicopter with @JosepBorrellF, taking off to Luhansk region. First ever EU HR/VP visit to Donbas since Russia launched this war. Sign of Ukraine-EU unity in the face of elevated Russian threats and the strength of our diplomacy for peace, security and justice in Europe. pic.twitter.com/yWcBzi5ejP
– Dmytro Kuleba (myDmytroKuleba) January 5, 2022
The two politicians traveled by helicopter from Kharkov for almost two hours to one of the hot spots on the contact line, Stanitsia Luganksa, a scant kilometer from the self-proclaimed separatist republic of Lugansk. There the Ukrainian military showed Borrell the positions of the pro-Russian fighters and their snipers. Later, the procession had to return by road when bad weather prevented a flight.
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During his speech to the press, Borrell lamented the deployment of more than 110,000 Russian soldiers around Ukraine in November, which he repeatedly described as “irregular”. “After the Geneva meeting [entre los presidentes Joe Biden y Vladímir Putin en junio de 2021] It looked like there was going to be a line of communication between the United States and Russia. Europe was watching, but now everything is different ”, added the high representative when recalling the appointment to address precisely the increase in tension on the Ukrainian border at the beginning of last year. Borrell stressed that Moscow has not only made an unusual accumulation of troops along the border with Ukraine, but has been increasing its demands to reduce tension.
The Kremlin presented two security proposals for the area in December, weeks after another video conference between Putin and Biden. The draft explicitly states that NATO must renounce incorporating Ukraine. Furthermore, these proposals have not even been sent to Brussels, something that is very annoying in the EU.
“The conflict on the border is about to deepen and tensions have grown for European security,” added the high representative during his speech, who promised to Kuleba “the full support of the bloc” for Kiev. In addition, Borrell recalled that the war with the pro-Russian insurgents, which has cost more than 13,000 lives so far, “still separates many families on both sides of the front.”
With this trip, Brussels tries to gain importance in the face of the important negotiations that will begin on January 10 in several ways. That day the delegations of the United States and Russia will meet in a bilateral meeting to discuss their differences. The Kremlin demands that the United States and NATO abandon Ukraine. At the same time, other meetings will take place in the Russia-NATO Council and in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has mediated the peace talks for Donbas over the years and has reported the continuous violations. of the ceasefire at the front.
All NATO members, including the United States, have repeated these days the message that all negotiations will be guided by the principle of “no decision on Ukraine without Ukraine.” However, the Kremlin wants to remove Europe and Kiev from the talks. A few weeks ago, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov criticized an invitation to more countries to bilateral negotiations: “We will drown all this with debate and talk.”
In the opinion of Gwendolyn Sasse, senior researcher at the think tank Carnegie Europe and director of the Center for Eastern Europe and International Studies in Berlin, “Europe will continue to be a relevant actor for Ukraine in political and economic terms” thanks, among other points, to its key support in reforms such as the anti-corruption efforts and for the decentralization of its Administration. However, “in terms of security it has little to offer Ukraine other than rhetorical support in the face of Russian military pressure.”
“Borrell’s visit demonstrates the European commitment, but above all it highlights that the European Union is marginalized in the negotiations with Russia,” adds Sasse. The expert highlights how two processes have developed in parallel: joining NATO, promised to Kiev in 2008, and joining the European Union, an illusion that has encouraged several agreements in recent years, one of which was broken by the Government. by Victor Yanukovych in 2013, which led to the so-called Maidan protests. “Both processes have intersected from the perspective of the Kremlin, although Putin only explicitly demands to stop the expansion of NATO,” says Sasse, who believes that, “in principle, entry into the European Union is somewhat more realistic in the medium term” .
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