EP Plenary: Speech by High Representative Josep Borrell on one year of Russia’s invasion and war of aggression against Ukraine


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Madame President [of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola], Madame President of the [European] Commission [Ursula von der Leyen], dear Members of the European Parliament, 

I am going to speak in Spanish, while you are using your headphones …  

I would like to take these first few minutes to pay tribute to a former President of the European Parliament, José María Gil-Robles, who sadly passed away a few days ago. He was a great advocate of the European ideal, President of the European Federalists and a fellow traveller on the path towards European construction.  

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,  

I am taking part in this debate on behalf of and as the representative of the Council of the European Union, as I chair its foreign affairs and defence configurations.  

I am therefore speaking from the intergovernmental perspective – one of the two pillars that drive the work of the European Union. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will then speak from the Community perspective. I will try not to tell you the same thing twice.  

As the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, it is also my role, however, to act as a bridge and coordinate the actions and decisions taken by the Member States in line with the foreign policy of the European Commission. This role is twofold: on the one hand, there is foreign policy, and on the other, there is security and defence, which are not the same thing, although one sometimes leads to the other. 

The war in Ukraine had highlighted the importance of a common security and defence policy. It has been wake-up call for Europe, a geopolitical wake-up call. And, as the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said a few days after the invasion started – and I am sure to pronounce this incorrectly in German – this has been a ‘Zeitenwende. But it has been a historic turning point not only for Germany, but for all of Europe. It has been our wake-up call to a new reality: war, something that we had taken off our intellectual radar. We had lowered our guard, as clearly evidenced by our very low military stocks and our defence industry’s poor capacity to replenish them.  

Indeed, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been an extraordinary wake-up call, because it has plunged us into a new world. A world in which everything has become a geopolitical discussion. The European Union has provided a response to this discussion and it now falls on you to judge and debate this response. I hope that this debate serves that purpose and highlights what we have done: you already know what we have done, so I won’t retread familiar ground. As the representatives of the people of Europe, how do you see it? What else could we have done?  

What exactly have we done? We have provided Ukraine with as much military, economic, financial and diplomatic support as possible. This is considerable, but in my opinion not enough.  

I was recently in Ukraine with the President of the Commission and my fellow Commissioners, where I also attended the EU-Ukraine Summit. There, once again, I saw a people defending their freedom and independence, and leaders trying to confront this dramatic situation, following a path towards Europe. 

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said it here himself a few days ago. The situation in Ukraine today is dramatic, but the Ukrainians look towards Europe, as did the people of so many countries, including my own, and see a promising future. The road ahead may be long – because the war will be long – but we must do everything in our power to ensure that this promise is not just an empty gesture. Rather, we must ensure that the Ukraine that emerges victorious from this war finds the future it needs in our European family, to which it belongs de facto.  

The military situation today on the ground is extremely worrying. There are more than 360 000 Russian soldiers: double the number before the war. Russia’s counteroffensive has begun, albeit on a small scale. For the first time, Ukraine does not have the advantage of having more troops on the ground.  

It is for this reason that Ukraine is still calling on the EU’s Member States and on everyone to help them. Yesterday, the countries coordinating military support for Ukraine met under the Ramstein format to see where we stand, what we have done, what we have provided to Ukraine in support, what it needs – in particular, more ammunition and more training for its soldiers – so that we can continue to demonstrate that we will not back down in our support for Ukraine.  

Honourable Members,  

I am going to put the cart before the horse. I can tell you that I dislike war as much as any of you. I am not a warmonger. Je ne suis pas un va-t-en-guerre. I have no appetite for war. I am not a fan of war. Of course I prefer peace. As almost all of you do. As we all do. There is no need to repeat ourselves.  

But what we do need to repeat and discuss is how peace can be achieved. To achieve peace, we must continue to provide military support to Ukraine and step up that support. This is going to be one of my key messages. To win the peace, one must first win the war. And we can support Ukraine militarily while at the same time making every diplomatic effort needed to achieve peace as quickly as possible. These are not two alternatives or two contradictory approaches. These are two things that must be done at the same time. We must provide more support to Ukraine and make more diplomatic efforts. Soon I will have the opportunity to do this, at the United Nations General Assembly, where I will ask the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to launch a mediation process, if he is willing and able. A dialogue that so far has evaded everyone, since everyone who has spoken to Putin has come back with the message that Putin wants to carry on with this war until he achieves his military objectives.  

It is incredibly naive to ask us to stop providing military assistance to Ukraine, in order to shorten the war so that peace can be established more quickly. And I use the word ‘naive’ to avoid using a much stronger word. It is possible, in fact, to do the two things at the same time. If we stop providing military support to Ukraine, the peace that we achieve will not be peace: it will be a Russian victory, which would pose a terrible threat to our security.  

So, what exactly have we done? And the Council – which I represent here today – what has it done? Well, first, it has approved an impressive package of sanctions: nine packages, with the tenth on its way – which the President of the Commission will surely mention – with the aim of weakening the Russian economy. We have succeeded. Many people say that sanctions don’t work, that they haven’t weakened the Russian economy, that they have actually had a negative impact on us.  

While it is true that the Russian economy has not collapsed, that Russian GDP growth is not what we had expected, and that, last year, Russia had exceptionally high revenues, both from gas and oil, things are changing.  

This is thanks to our sanctions, and in particular to the price cap that we placed on oil. Take a look at the three key parameters of an economy. If you look at oil and gas revenues, two days ago the Russian Finance Minister himself said that, in January, they were down 46% compared to January of last year. Yes, Russia did obtain significant revenues in 2022, because prices skyrocketed and we were still dependent on Russian gas and oil, but that is no longer the case. One of our major successes has been to reduce our considerable dependence on Russian energy to almost zero. Russian gas and oil revenues are down 46% on last January. If you look at government deficit, Russia’s government deficit is through the roof. It was 14 times higher in January 2023 than it was in January 2022. 14 times higher: going from EUR 2 billion to EUR 1.8 trillion. If you look at Russia’s trade balance, you will see that while Russia did have a huge surplus in 2022, caused by, among other factors, a bumper wheat harvest, its trade balance in January 2023 was at its lowest since 2007. Trade deficit, government deficit, oil and gas revenues.  

Sanctions are like a slow-acting poison, like arsenic-based poisons: they take their time to work, but they do work. And their effect is irreversible.  

Russia’s technological dependence on Europe is at 45%. Its car and aeroplane factories have lost 80% of their capacity. Yes, the rouble is artificially high, but the Russian economy will pay a very high price for this war. They have lost their main energy customer – us Europeans – and they will not get that customer back. And it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to find an alternative customer for its gas, because China is too far away. Russia’s oil is selling for 40 dollars a barrel: half the price of Brent. India and China are buying it at a discount. This is also down to our price cap, which has been a major political success, as it has reduced Russian revenues without affecting the global oil market.  

So, yes, our sanctions are having an effect. Slowly but surely. Putting the squeeze on the technological, trade and energy underpinnings of the Russian economy. Putin has already lost the energy battle. Just as he is losing morally and politically and, so far, even militarily, even though Ukraine has yet to win. 

The second thing that the Council has done, in addition to approving the sanctions packages – proposals put forward jointly by the Commission and the High Representative and, in this connection, I would like to thank the President of the Commission for her leadership and drive on this issue – is that we have armed Ukraine. For the first time, the European Union has used not its own budget resources but rather the resources of all the Member States to arm a country for war.  

If the amount given to Ukraine from the European Peace Facility is added to the amount each country has given it bilaterally, this comes to around EUR 12 billion, as part of a total aid package of over EUR 60 billion. Around the world, no one has done than more to help Ukraine financially and economically than Europe. Our military aid, which is of course less than that provided by the United States, can in no way be considered insignificant.  

But, the point I made in Ramstein yesterday, which I would like to reiterate today, is the following: not only do we have to keep on providing this aid, we also have to step it up. And I am calling on all European countries, which have modern, efficient tanks gathering dust on their military bases and serving no purpose, to give them to Ukraine and the sooner the better.  

Because this spring and summer will be decisive. The war will be decided this spring and summer. And we spent too much time discussing whether or not to give them the famous Leopard tanks. Russia, meanwhile, was preparing its offensive. We spent too much time discussing decisions that should have been taken sooner, fearing that our involvement in the war amounted to some kind of pseudo belligerence. We said that we would supply Ukraine with tanks and this did not lead to the outbreak of World War Three. Of course, the tanks still have not arrived in Ukraine and will take time to get there.  

And since time is of the essence, since time is measured in lives, it is my role, as I am responsible for the European Peace Facility and for coordinating the Member States’ military support actions, to ask for more and faster aid for Ukraine. 

This is the key message that I want to convey to you. But I must reiterate that this military aid is neither a contradiction of, nor an alternative to, the search for peace through diplomatic means. The two go hand in hand. Believe me, I do not understand those people who say that, in order to negotiate, we must first stop providing military support to Ukraine. Quite the opposite. We can do the two things at the same time. This is not a debate between doves and hawks. This is a debate where we must be realistic: where we know the situation on the ground and what we can and must do.  

It is also a wake-up call for Europe to understand that its military capacity needs to be much bigger than it is now. Our military industry has to be more powerful. Our armies must be more able to deal with a situation like that in Ukraine, because their capacities have been found wanting.  

This will be a long war. And our approach must be rooted in the belief that a war of attrition is essentially a logistics battle, an information battle. We have to see the geopolitical dimension of this war, because the Wagner Group that we find in the Sahel is the same Wagner Group that is fighting in Ukraine. And we have to respond to the same geopolitical game that Russia is playing, using its oil, wheat, civil nuclear capacity and minerals to develop a geopolitical approach that we must confront with greater determination.  

Honourable Members, this is the work that you have to do too. Because we have to convince the people of Europe that our resolve cannot be weakened. That the war has a price, but that freedom also has a price. That the price of truth is being paid by Ukraine, that the price that we have to pay is small in comparison and that it would be much higher if Putin won the war.  

He cannot win the war. This war must be won by Ukraine, in order to build a stable peace in Europe.  

Thank you very much. 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-236731


Closing remarks

Thank you, Vice-President [of the European Parliament, Othmar] Karas, thank you to all Members [of the European Parliament] that are following this debate. Thank you, colleagues. 

Vice-President, for this debate to make fully sense, I should be able to try to answer what I heard, from the Members that have intervened because they have said very interesting things. So, I ask for your help if I take some minutes more. Because I think, I have to answer, and we have to share our views. Otherwise, it is not a debate. 

Let’s switch to Spanish, it will be quicker. 

Some of you have said that we failed to react after Crimea. That’s right. That’s true.  

After Crimea, we imposed some economic sanctions – not too many. We carried on buying Russian gas, we carried on becoming more dependent on Russia and we carried on building Nord Stream. All of that is true. But we can’t turn back time. We are not going to resolve today’s problems by flaying ourselves for yesterday’s mistakes. We take responsibility for those mistakes and we rectify them.  

Second, another comment I heard. President Zelenskyy has a shopping list. He comes here asking for tanks, planes and ammunition. Yes, of course he does. What would you do if you were him? You would go anywhere to ask for help. That’s what help is all about.  

Weapons kill. Yes, weapons kill. Yes, they are made for that. We know that, unfortunately, our military assistance will also cause casualties.  

The problem with Zelenskyy is that he gets plenty of applause but not enough ammunition. He is not short of applause or cries of ‘Slava Ukraini’, but his soldiers lack ammunition to keep on fighting. Do you know why? Because applause is free and a Leopard costs EUR 10 million.

Why don’t we look ourselves in the eye and say that’s all very well, but we must do more and commit more? We should put additional resources on the table to get those unused tanks out of storage and on to Ukraine before Russia launches its spring-summer offensive.  

That, Honourable Members, is what we are discussing. And you have a role to play here. Mine is to keep the Member States united, because all the sanctions must be approved by unanimity. And every euro that comes out of the European Peace Facility does so based on unanimity. I have to keep 27 Member States united and, believe me, that isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we have to make exceptions and we have to accept behaviour that we don’t like for the sake of unity. You can also help with that.  

Some of you have said that we must do more, and more quickly, which I accept and take on board. And we must convince European public opinion of the need to do this.  

Other people have criticised the piecemeal approach of our aid. I agree with this criticism. We should have done sooner some things that we are doing now. This would have saved lives and it would have made defending Ukraine easier.  

Some people believe that the solution is to stop the military aid. These are the people who are no longer here to listen to my answer. Frankly, I don’t understand how those on the left can argue that the solution is to stop the military aid to Ukraine. No, I don’t understand that argument.  

I don’t understand the pro-Putinism or the extreme naivety of those on the left who think that. I have friends who think that, and I have a great deal of intellectual respect for some of them, but do they really believe that if we left Ukraine without the ammunition they need every day or every hour to keep on defending themselves, this would bring Putin to the negotiating table? Wouldn’t it make him step up his military offensive? Please, take your heads out of the clouds. Take your heads out of the clouds.  

A death caused by any weapon pains me just as much as it pains you. But know this: if we want the war to be over more quickly, the solution is not to provide less support to Ukraine. The solution is to provide more support and to do faster. 

The war is dragging on because there is deadlock. And this deadlock has to be ended. And the sanctions are helping to do this. There has been much criticism of the effects of the sanctions. Let me reiterate: if anyone thought that the economic sanctions would stop Putin from funding the war overnight, then they must have been living on another planet.  

The sanctions have a slow but sure effect. The figures speak for themselves. Honourable Members, the figures really do speak for themselves. Last year was an incredibly good one for the Russian Treasury, because energy prices shot up and we were still dependent on Russian energy. But this year the figures show that Russia’s revenues are falling, its deficit is increasing, its trade balance is increasing, and its technological dependence on Europe is having an impact. So we must continue down this path.  

Other people have said that, ultimately only NATO counts when it comes to defending Europe. This once again raises the question of Europe’s strategic responsibility. Yes, NATO plays a fundamental role in Europe’s territorial defence. Of course it does. But that does not absolve us from our own responsibility to have the military capacities that we don’t have at present. Because we got used to the dream of peace and we stopped replenishing our military stockpiles in case war returned. And war has returned, and we have to deal with it.  

And you have also spoken about – the President of the European Commission has spoken about Iran. She was right to point out that country’s role in providing military support to Russia. But we must also take account of how the rest of the world thinks. And we will see that next week at the United Nations. Because not everyone thinks like us or sees the causes or consequences of the war in the same way that we do.  

I am fortunate enough to be able to speak to leaders from Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia. Many of them believe the Russian propaganda and disinformation that energy prices and food prices are the result of our sanctions. There is a great deal of educating to be done here to explain to them that this is not the case. How can someone claim that food prices are rising when that same person is using his warships to block 20 million tonnes of wheat from leaving Ukraine?  

We also have to fight this battle against disinformation. Because, whether we like it or not, there is still an anti-colonial sentiment in Africa, and an anti-imperial sentiment in Latin America, which means that many of the leaders there, and the people living there, see the war through a different lens to us. The truth is multifaceted. And it’s not about imposing our truth on them, but rather convincing them with arguments and reasoning.  

I have tried to bring figures to this debate, because I believe they underpin the argument that must form the basis of our policies. I have never seen any country like Ukraine where the idea of Europe offers such an existential hope.  

For people who have experienced dictatorships that deprive them of their freedoms, as was the case in my country, Europe has always been a guiding light for our hopes for the future. But I have never seen a country where belonging to the EU is such an existential question, as it is for Ukraine.  

And it is for that reason that we must support this European promise, without forgetting that it will be a long and difficult road to follow. Because in order to win the peace, one must first win the war. But when I talk about winning the war, that does not mean forgetting about the diplomatic work undertaken to find peace. 

Let me repeat: the two things are neither contradictions nor alternatives. Don’t say that to negotiate peace, we must stop providing military support to Ukraine. Do say that we can do the two things at the same time. Do say that we can start to consider what the security order in Europe will look like when the war is over. What will Europe’s role be? Because I would not like the war to end at the hands of only China, Turkey and the United States.  

Now is the time to start thinking about how we will rebuild not only a war-torn Ukraine, but also cooperation and communication on the European continent. We will probably need new leaders in Russia, who will take responsibility for what they have done and who will be able to lead their country towards reconciliation and towards a joint future, as was the case with the leaders of Europe after the Second World War, who were able to reconcile and rebuild. And we need to work on that now. All of us, including you.  

Honourable Members, this has been a very important debate for me, because it has shown me that there are still members of this Parliament who believe that what we are doing is wrong. I would like them to tell me what the alternative is. To look me in the eyes and tell me that they accept the entry of Russian troops into Kyiv and the installation of a regime like that in Belarus. Because that would be the end result if we stopped providing military support to Ukraine.  

And since we don’t want this, we must continue to use our sanctions – that slow-acting poison that is putting a squeeze on the foundations of the economy – and we must continue to provide military support to the country. Support that is less piecemeal, less slow and less risk-averse. 

Let me tell you: we are at war. It is not us waging the war. It is not our young people who will die in Kyiv. But it is a war that affects us, because our security is dependent on its outcome. We still don’t have this mindset to deal with what President Macron calls a ‘war economy’. We still don’t have it. Yet, we need this mindset, if not in our daily lives, which is fortunate, then at least when we have to take the political decisions that need to be taken and that this Parliament – I hope – will support.  

Thank you very much. 


Link to the video (starting from 5:22): https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-236733

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