Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the meeting
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Good afternoon, bonne après-midi,
On a eu un long Conseil [Affaires Étrangères]. On est au Conseil depuis 8:30 ce matin, ça fait neuf heures [de réunion].
It has been a long [Foreign Affairs] Council but a productive one. I am very happy about the result.
First of all, because we reaffirmed our top priority. This top priority is to continue supporting Ukraine. I will leave for tomorrow the military aspects of this issue. Tomorrow, we have a Defence Ministers Council where we will continue discussing about what is happening in Ukraine from the defence and the military point of view. But certainly, the [Foreign] Ministers also talked about it.
We listened to Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro] Kuleba, who joined us [remotely] to debrief on the latest developments. We had the opportunity to reconfirm to him that the European Union stands with Ukraine until Ukraine’s victory. This has to be understood under Ukrainian parameters. Until then, we stay united in our support to Ukraine.
A good proof of that is that today, we launched the EU Military Assistance Mission [to Ukraine (EUMAM)] with the purpose of training at least 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers. It has been decided, it has been agreed, it has been implemented in record time. It is the first time I see a Military Assistance Mission to go [ahead] as quickly as this one, through the whole procedure. I hope that, by the end of the month, it will start working.
Member States discussed about the amount of our military support. More details will come tomorrow, but allow me to say that we should not confuse the €3.1 billion from the European Peace Facility, with the [combined] military support of the European Union and its Member States to Ukraine. Sometimes you can read some figures, a comparison between the United States’ effort and the European effort.
I asked my military staff to do the best estimation of which is the amount of our military support to Ukraine, and I can advance a figure that tomorrow will be discussed with the Defence Ministers.
I think I can say that at least €8 billion in military equipment have already been provided to Ukraine by the European Union and the Member States. It is about 45% of the effort done by the United States, so it is not negligible. We are not talking about €3.1 billion, but about €8 billion on military support.
Tomorrow, as I said, I will continue discussing these figures with the Defence Ministers and study how these resources have been implemented, with which kind of defence material, and its effectiveness.
All in all, our approach to Russia remains clear. We agreed with the Ministers on a common message along the following lines.
First, we will continue isolating Russia internationally. We will continue imposing restrictive measures against [the] Russian economy. We stand ready to continue reinforcing restrictive measures and target third countries’ involvement, especially the ones who [we know] are providing arms and military support – Iran and Belarus.
This morning, we discussed with the leader of Belarusian [United] Democratic Forces, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. We reconfirmed to her our solidarity with the people of Belarus, and we will continue upholding sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime.
As I said, tomorrow I will go deeper into the military aspects of the situation.
It is clear that our sanctions are weakening the Russian economy. They weaken Russia’s capacity to buy and update technology. We never expected the sanctions were going to finish the war, but certainly, they are weakening the capacity of the Russian army to renew its material, especially in front of the enormous losses that Russia is suffering in the battlefield. It has weakened its capacity to lead a war based on terror against the Ukrainian people.
Putin’s Russia wants to put Ukrainians into the darkness and the cold. They are destroying the electricity systems of this country: millions of Ukrainians do not have electricity. The purpose is, during the winter, to put them in inhumane situation in their cities.
We will continue supporting the Ukrainian people and ensure accountability for the violations of international law and war crimes committed in Ukraine. The news coming from the liberated cities are really important to know what has happened there. Together with the [European] Commission, we are looking at the options at our disposal to ensure accountability, and the discussion will continue on that.
We are working closely with our NATO partners and worldwide, [with] everybody who is ready to defend the international order based on rules.
We are enhancing our resilience, in particular on energy security and critical infrastructure, countering Russia’s hybrid threats, and information manipulation. We are supporting civil society, human rights defenders and independent media inside and outside Russia. Our immediate support focuses on supporting Ukraine to resist Russia’s increased systematic targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Putin is unable to conquer Ukraine. Putin is unable to defeat the Ukrainian army, Putin is withdrawing. The Russian Army has withdrawn to the other side of the Dnipro River, and it is trying to compensate these military failures with efforts to increase the human suffering of the Ukrainian people – especially now as the winter is approaching.
As I said, we are working with our partners to repair and replace Ukrainian energy infrastructure. This means an enormous effort.
In parallel, we are redoubling our efforts on outreach to third countries, in particular on the issue of food security. I want to mention that just today, we have published a joint statement with the United States Secretary of State, [Antony] Blinken, and the United Kingdom [Foreign] Secretary [James] Cleverly, and the High Representative of the European Union. The three of us going together with a public statement clarifying the issue of sanctions in relation to Russian food and fertilisers’ exports. Please, have a look at this communication from the three of us – United States, United Kingdom and the European Union – to clarify the conditions in which operators can participate in the exports of food and fertilisers from Russia.
I want to stress that, on our side, thanks to the EU Solidarity Lanes, we have been able to support the export of 15 million tons of agrifood products between May and October . And, today, the Commission announced a new humanitarian aid package of €210 million for 15 countries around the world, especially from Africa, to Afghanistan, [and] Latin America, to address their immediate needs.
Now, the international community needs to ensure the renewable and practical implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative beyond the 19 November deadline. It is very important that this initiative –brokered by the United Nations and Turkey – could be implemented. But do not forget why this initiative has been taking place: it is not because a natural disaster, it is not because of a tsunami in the Black Sea, it is not because there were pirates. It is because the blockade of the Russian Army to the exports of Ukraine - using hunger as a weapon.
Russia has no reasons, no legal ground to block food [from] going out from Ukraine to the international markets. What Russia has been doing is illegal and affecting first [of all] the lives of people from vulnerable countries around the world. Russia must stop weaponising food.
This is the strong message that the Foreign Affairs Council has issued today: Russia must stop weaponising food.
Back to the Council’s agenda, we discussed about the Great Lakes situation.
You know that the Great Lakes region in Africa is a hotspot, a geostrategic hotspot. This region can become a powerhouse for development of the entire African continent. It is a region of many challenges but also many opportunities.
We see there is strong potential we could achieve in such a region. It has potential which is very much unmatched. We can make a difference, be realistic in our ambition and focusing on sectors where we have a real added value.
We agreed on the need for a [renewed] strategy on the Great Lakes. It will be adopted in the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council to support the region, to move from tensions to trust, from trafficking to trade, and from competition to regional integration.
Back to home, we are very worried about the situation in the Western Balkans. In the Western Balkans, several crises are looming, and partners feel the immediate damaging impact of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. The shockwaves of this war are hitting the Western Balkans.
To counter that, we are stepping up our engagement as the Western Balkans remain our geostrategic priority - the closest and most important geostrategic priority. And I want to insist on the basic idea that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. This is our message ahead of the next European Union - Western Balkans Summit on 6 December.
During the weekend, I have been very busy in Paris discussing with Serbia and Kosovo. I briefed Ministers about my engagement as facilitator of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue with Prime Minister [of Kosovo, Albin] Kurti and President [of Serbia, Aleksandar] Vučić to defuse the unnecessary and counterproductive tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, to defuse these tensions that are reaching a very, very dangerous level.
I can say that we are facing the most serious, the most dangerous crisis since 2013 – of the last ten years. Both parties – both parties - need to urgently show readiness to find a way forward to lower these tensions. It is not acceptable for either party to violate or ignore their Dialogue obligations.
Chief negotiators will start working here in Brussels on the next steps. They will start working tonight. The Kosovo side is already arriving tonight. I am ready to convene the leaders if negotiators manage to advance towards a practical solution on the issue of [licence] plates before the 21 November deadline. We cannot reach this date without having an agreement or we will be on the edge of a dangerous situation. You know, the withdrawal of the Serbs from the institutions, the dismissing of the police, of the judiciary, of the measures, has created a vacuum in the north of Kosovo. In this vacuum, the worst can happen. Both parties need to show more flexibility.
The message from the Council is clear: we need clear progress. We presented a proposal. I thank Germany and France for supporting strongly this proposal. Kosovo Serbs need to return to institutions. Kosovo authorities must show flexibility on licence plates and work on the implementation of the agreement on the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities without delay.
With partners aspiring for a European future, we expect a European behaviour. We expect willingness to find European solutions: this is a basic precondition. They are at a crossroads now. They have to decide which way they want to go: towards the European Union or towards the past.
We also focused on the hybrid threats directed at the region and agreed to step up our work and support our partners on cyber-defence. We have condemned the important attacks that Albania has been suffering and also strongly condemn the cyber-attack that hit Montenegro’s IT infrastructure during the month of August. We will be looking for more support for Montenegro to face this.
After spending quite a lot of time discussing about the situation in the Western Balkans, we raised the situation in Lebanon and the deepening political vacuum that could bring it to an economic collapse.
Once again, it is crucial for Lebanon to urgently conclude Presidential elections to unlock these long-overdue economic reforms and get international support. We did not rule out any option to unblock the current political stalemate, including possible sanctions.
Finally, let me stop this long explanation: we discussed about Iran and the unabated repressive reaction of the authorities to the public discontent, showed by courageous demonstrators in the streets of the cities of Iran. In particular, we salute the bravery of the Iranian women who continue demanding basic respect of their fundamental rights.
To support them, today the Council adopted another 31 listings under the Iran Human Rights Regime.
We also insist on Iran to stop providing arms that Russia is using to commit atrocities against the Ukrainian people. The drones provided by Iran to Russia allegedly months ago, [before] the war started, are being used in this war and it is a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231. We have already adopted sanctions in this regard weeks ago and we will take further steps if needed.
Finally, I have to stress that we see a backlash against gender equality and women’s rights globally – not only in Iran. For example, the Taliban just announced a further restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, barring women from entering public parks and gyms. We strongly condemn this.
We set out today our clear and strong position to apply efforts to counter this global trend against women, in the conclusions on Women, Peace and Security that the Council has adopted.
I personally had the occasion to meet with groups of Afghan women who escaped from Afghanistan during the days of the evacuation of Kabul, and of knowing better from them of the very sad situation of the women in Afghanistan. Let’s not forget them.
This is, more or less, what we have been discussing along these nine hours: Russia and Ukraine, Kherson withdrawal, EU Military Assistance Mission, military support, Western Balkans, Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Belarus, Lebanon, Iran’s human rights violations.
I remain at your disposal.
Q. Mr Borrell, I am very impressed by your support to Ukraine, because it is a very big support that you will accept 15,000 soldiers and officers to train them. My question is on your diplomatic dealing. After the removal of Russian forces from Kherson city, Ukraine feels the soft pressure of United States and Turkey to start negotiations with Russia. What is your position – the position of the EU? Because Ukraine has a separate position, not the same as the United States to start the negotiations and to resolve the problems, the conflict and war with diplomatic meanings. We hear the same rhetoric from Ankara, from Turkey. What is the official position of Brussels?
Look, I am not representing Ankara here. I am not representing the US, neither. I am representing my colleagues from the Foreign Affairs Council. Je pense que je me suis bien exprimé avant, je vais répéter la phrase: we will continue supporting Ukraine until Ukraine's victory, and it has to be understood under Ukrainian parameters.
Q. Deux questions, si je peux. La première est liée à l’Ukraine et à l’Iran. On a entendu ce matin le nouveau ministre des affaires étrangères suédois [Tobias Billström] dire que le
support soutien à l’Ukraine doit venir avant tout. C’est une question liée à l’accord sur le nucléaire, donc je vous demande si les fournitures d’armes de l’Iran à la Russie peuvent, en quelque sorte, avoir un impact direct sur le JCPOA? Deuxième question: dans votre introduction, vous n’avez pas mentionné l’immigration. On nous a dit que le ministre italien [des affaires étrangères, Antonio Tajani] avait demandé à discuter de ce point aujourd’hui. Je voulais savoir si vous en avez discuté et avec quel résultat éventuellement.
Look, they are different issues. The JCPOA is a tasking of the United Nations Security Council, I am acting as Coordinator of the negotiations in order to review a deal to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. It is following its path with a lot of difficulties and stalemates, it is still there. Let’s see what is happening. It has nothing to do with other issues, which certainly concern us. I have made a reference to sanctions for human rights abuses, women, demonstrators; I expressed also my concern about the supply of arms from Iran to Russia – it is clear that Iranian drones have been used, there is a lot of evidence. There is speculation about the possibility of using [Iranian] ballistic missiles but there is no evidence – at least not yet – of the use and supply of this type of arms. But I want to make a difference: I will continue trying to work in order to fulfil all the balances between the parts engaged in negotiating the JCPOA and, at the same time, we will act as we are acting on other frontlines like the ones we have taken today.
Migration, yes, certainly, we discussed about migration. It was not a specific point in the agenda but, how can we [not]? We should talk about migration: some events in the Mediterranean make it unavoidable. Yes, [there] has been an exchange of views and we will have to continue discussing about it. But, today, nothing concrete.
Q. Can you tell me more about this military assistance mission for Ukraine? Where will it take place – only in Poland or also in other countries? At what stage are the negotiations on €18 billion of aids for Ukraine now? Because I know that Hungary does not support this aid for Ukraine.
Thank you for very precise questions. It is easier to answer when the questions are focusing on specific issues. Yes, we are going to train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, not all of them in Poland. It will be several different Member States that will provide the basis, not only training, not only material, not only trainees, but concrete places in which this training will take place. I can tell you that the country that I know best will also participate in the training of these soldiers on their soil. So, several Member States will be participating, and the training will take place in several different member states, not only in Poland.
Secondly, as far as I understood, the country you mentioned is not opposing to the macro-financial assistance of €18 billion to Ukraine. Only the discussion is about how to implement it; through common debt or by bilateral agreements? But the principle of providing a macro-financial assistance to Ukraine has been agreed unanimously.
Q. You said that the European proposal for more structural relations and a way out of the current crisis is on the table. I know it is sensitive, but could you be any more specific about the key elements of this proposal? So, what do you want the partners to agree on? Is there a timeframe in which you would like those discussions to come to any result? Secondly, if I may, you said also previously that Kosovo should align its actions on licence plates with past Dialogue agreements: does that mean that Pristina is in violation of previous agreements on car plates? Would you expect them to prolong, for example, the validity of so-called ‘status neutral’ car plates?
What I wanted to say, let me be careful with the words, is that everybody has to agree with past agreements. It does not make sense to work on new agreements if the agreements that were accepted in the past are not being implemented. And certainly, there is the issue of the [licence] plates, of the identity cards - for which Serbia made a step forward during the summer. There is the issue of the Association/Community] of the Serb Municipalities. I am not going to make the list of the issues on which I am asking for flexibility and commitment.
And the proposal that we presented, and now I am happy to say that France and Germany have been very much supportive of this proposal. The so-called “Franco-German proposal” is in fact the Franco-German support for the proposal presented by me and [the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue] Miroslav Lajčák. It is a proposal, let’s say, European proposal that tries to go out of the crisis management mode.
In the last two, three years, I have been permanently in crisis management, from one crisis to another, solving yesterday’s crisis and waiting for tomorrow’s crisis, be it [licence] plates, be it whatever. This is not the way you are solving the problem. You have to look for a more structural approach, looking at the deep questions, and try to prevent the crises from happening. And well, this is a step forward, this is a new approach, and I have to say that both parties were, I would not say agreeing, but not rejecting the proposal, not rejecting which is already a lot. But now again, we are in crisis mode, and we have to solve this crisis of the next week, before the next week a crisis has to be avoided. And my hope is that if we manage to avoid a big clash now that there is no police in the north of Kosovo, now that there is no judiciary, that there is a vacuum of institutions. If we are able to overcome this very dangerous moment, then we should be able to look at the problem with different lenses, not of crisis management but of structural solutions. And I think it is possible, and the European path requires that. I cannot go into the details. It has two pages, no more than that, but that could represent a compass, for looking for a solution which does not depend on everyday crisis.
Q. Going back to the Iranian sanctions' discussion, the German Foreign Minister [Annalena Baerbock], on her way into the meeting, was talking about the idea of listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation by the EU. Is this something that could be a next step as you have alluded to, or this completely off the table?
Well, on the table … this issue has not been discussed, but let me be concrete. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps is already listed. It is already listed under the Iran weapons of mass destruction sanctions regime and, also, in the latest listing on human rights’ violations. I do not know what kind of listing my colleague was mentioning, but you should know that this Revolutionary Guard is already listed under the Iran weapons of mass destruction sanctions regime. We have different sanctions regime: “listed” does not mean anything unless you tell me which kind of sanctions regime you are implementing. It is also included in the latest listing for human rights’ violations.
The addition of an organisation in the so-called European Union terrorists’ list is subject to a Council decision and regulation that has to be adopted by unanimity. Under European Union law – because we are [in] a state of law, we are being governed by law for anything – under our law, the prerequisite for listing an organisation on the terrorists’ list is a national decision first, that has to be adopted by the competent national authorities on the basis of a court decision, on the basis of a judiciary decision, or a proscription order by an administrative authority at the national level. It means that at the European Union level, alone, [we] cannot act without such a national decision that has to be based on something supported by an administrative decision or a judiciary decision. It is the way we work: I cannot say tomorrow in the morning, “ah, you are a terrorist organisation” - no. Things require procedures and require legal procedures.
Q. Je vous poserai le mois prochain la question sur la nouvelle Stratégie pour les Grands Lacs. Entre temps, sur la guerre en Ukraine: vous soulignez donc la façon dont les Vingt-Sept ont réitéré leur soutien à l’Ukraine jusqu’à la victoire et selon les paramètres fixés par l’Ukraine. Ma question est celle-ci: est-ce que, selon votre compréhension, selon la compréhension des Vingt-Sept, ces paramètres impliquent la reconquête des territoires perdus depuis 2014 et pas seulement depuis le 24 février 2022? Et si c'est le cas, est-ce que vous sentez un soutien unanime des Vingt-Sept pour cette entreprise, ce but ?
No, I have not gone as far as you pretend. I said that it is up to the Ukrainians to decide what does it mean for them: “victory”- is up to them. The country which has been destroyed is Ukraine. The people frozen are Ukrainians. The 7 million people that fled Ukraine are Ukrainians. The casualties are Ukrainians, so let Ukrainians decide. I think it is quite logical. How can I say to the Ukrainians what they have to do? The only thing I can tell them is: “we will support you”.
Et demain, on va discuter, avec les ministres de la Défense, plus en détails des questions militaires. Mais c’est évident qu’en se retirant de Kherson, l’armée russe a subi déjà une défaite très grave: elle s’est retirée sans combattre, peut-être pour éviter le pire. Il faut quand même savoir que la capacité de nuisance dont Moscou dispose est encore très importante, mais elle ne l’utilise [non] pas pour se battre militairement, mais pour détruire les infrastructures critiques [de l’Ukraine]. Et même si les défenses anti-aériennes sont capables d’intercepter les drones avec une remarquable efficacité, c’est évident que la Russie de Poutine est embarquée dans la volonté [de vouloir] détruire un pays. Donc je pense que si on veut éviter de penser à la reconstruction, il faut éviter la destruction. Si vous voulez éviter d’avoir à reconstruire, évitez la destruction. Now. This is the key for me.
Which are the Ukrainian parameters, the Ukrainians will decide.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-233001