Bloc’s top diplomat calls for talks to avoid conflict in Ukraine in robust response to Russia’s proposals
The EU’s top diplomat has accused Russia of creating “a severe deterioration of the security situation in Europe” while calling for dialogue to avoid conflict in Ukraine.
Josep Borrell, the EU high representative for foreign policy, was responding to Vladimir Putin’s proposals for security guarantees for Russia that would effectively rewrite the post-cold-war order.
Russia last week put forward a list of highly controversial security demands, including a ban on Ukraine entering Nato and a limit to troop and arms deployments on the alliance’s eastern flank – effectively returning Nato forces to where they were in 1997, before an eastward expansion.
The Kremlin’s proposals were handed to the US and Nato, but the EU is part of the west’s co-ordinated response to Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine.
On Wednesday Borrell spoke to the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, where they “took note” of Russia’s proposals, according to an EU account of the call. “They underlined that any further military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs,” the EU statement said.
A US state department spokesperson used similar language to describe the exchange: “They emphasised the need for coordinated action to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and reaffirmed that any further Russian military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences for the Russian Federation.”
Russia has massed around 100,000 troops on its side of the border with Ukraine, while Putin has escalated his rhetoric, sparking fears that he is looking for a pretext for an invasion. Earlier this month the Russian president said war in eastern Ukraine – where Ukrainian government troops have been fighting Russian-backed rebels since – looked like genocide.
EU leaders have stopped short of detailing specific sanctions against Russia, but last week agreed that “any further military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe cost in response”.
Nato has called on Russia to withdraw its forces and said its relationship with Ukraine is a matter between Kiev and the 30 members of the transatlantic security alliance.
In his statement on Putin’s security proposals, Borrell said Europe’s security was under threat.
Listing the Kremlin’s recent foreign policy adventures, from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, to its role in eastern Ukraine, actions in the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Transnistria and support for Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Borrell said Russia’s actions had “led to a severe deterioration of the security situation in Europe”.
“The EU believes that dialogue, negotiation and cooperation are the only means to overcome disputes and bring peace,” Borrell said, citing the need to respect international commitments, including through the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The OSCE announced on Wednesday an agreement between Russia and Ukraine to restore a ceasefire.
“I was delighted that participants expressed their strong determination to fully adhere to the measures to strengthen the ceasefire agreement of 22 July 2020,” said Mikko Kinnunen, an OSCE special envoy in Ukraine. “This is of utmost significance for the people living on both sides of the contact line.”
The OSCE has an observer mission in Donbas and has reported five times as many daily violations of the ceasefire this month compared with December 2020. Ceasefire violations include explosions and the firing of weapons, which monitors have recorded despite restrictions on their movement and jamming of GPS signals on OSCE drones.
The agreement was reached during a meeting of officials from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE – known as the Trilateral Contact Group – and representatives of the Kremlin-backed, self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Many ceasefires have been agreed and collapsed since the conflict began in 2014. More than 14,000 people have been killed, while the region’s economy has been devastated.