Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the meeting
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Thank you to all of you for following this press conference after a long and intense Foreign Affairs Council. The longest and most intense that I remember.
Obviously, the main topic was the situation in Ukraine. In Ukraine, Russia has created the biggest threat to peace and stability in Europe since the Second World War. In Europe - the biggest threat to peace and stability.
We are at a critical juncture. Everything we believe in and has been framing our lives – international rules, principles and progress achieved since the end of the Cold War – all that is being challenged.
We have condemned the Russian military build-up close to Ukraine, the increased ceasefire violations and provocations from the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
We have also condemned actions, staged events and information manipulations that are clearly aimed at creating a pretext for military escalation against Ukraine. It is a classical way of behaving. You create a pretext for a military escalation.
We commend Ukraine for its restraint in face of this intimidation and violations of Minsk agreements and international law.
In the meantime, while we were discussing inside the Council meeting, we were following the discussions of the Russian Security Council with strong concern. We understand that the final decision has not been taken yet. We call upon President [of Russia, Vladimir] Putin to respect international law and the Minsk agreements and expect him not to recognise the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. We are ready to react with a strong, united front in case he should decide to do so. We expect that he will not, but if he does, we will react with a strong and united front.
Today we have had Foreign Minister [of Ukraine Dmytro] Kuleba and we have reaffirmed our unity, our resolve and solidarity with Ukraine. Because the Ukrainian security is our security.
We will continue supporting Ukraine on all fronts. Today we have adopted formally the Decision proposed by the Commission to provide 1.2 billion euros in macro-financial assistance to Ukraine.
We have also decided to provide support to Ukraine’s Army with Professional Military Education [reform] developed under the European Peace Facility. We will increase our support against cyber-attacks and in countering disinformation. We will send a mission of experts to help Ukraine to face cyber-attacks.
We have also been looking into the possibility of a joint session of the Foreign Affairs Council, with the Ukrainian partners in Kyiv.
I want to confirm that our embassies and diplomatic missions remain open and fully operational. With the single exception of one country, all others remain in Kyiv. Their embassies are there, open and operational, plus the European Union Delegation.
It will be soon 8 years since Russia invaded and illegally annexed Crimea. I want to repeat again that any further aggression against Ukraine would have a strong answer from the European Union. But I want to add that this will apply also to Belarus, should an attack be conducted from its territory or with its involvement.
Belarus is being dragged into the crisis. It is losing its sovereignty with the non-transparent deployment of Russian forces. Belarus is losing its nuclear neutrality and it is in a process of “satellisation” with respect to Russia.
Now it is up to the Russian leadership to decide how they want to be seen by international community and by history.
On Bosnia and Herzegovina, we discussed about how to preserve the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of the country.
We have urged the political leaders to take responsibility for preserving the Constitution, ensure the full return to the State institutions and deal with all open issues.
There is no place in Europe for a divided Bosnia and Herzegovina and those who work in this direction are strongly wrong. They are depriving their people of a prosperous European perspective and life.
The Ministers expressed their full support to the European Union Special Representative [Johann Sattler], to the European Union Force [in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Operation] Althea, to High Representative [of the International Community for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian] Smith, to the efforts of facilitation that we are deploying from the European External Action Service, under my direction, and by the United States Special Representative.
Both are trying to facilitate the political dialogue in order to reach an agreement on the Electoral reform, on the Constitutional reform, including limited constitutional amendments that could improve the functionality of the Federation.
We are ready to use all the instruments available, if the situation requires so. This certainly includes financial assistance and restrictive measures, but this will be used as the last resort and certainly we would prefer the dialogue and the agreement between parties in order to ensure the reforms needed to develop the forthcoming elections.
We also discussed about climate diplomacy and we also had a Joint Ministerial Council with the Gulf Cooperation Council. This is a key moment for the resumption of our high-level engagement. [There have been] Six years without a meeting with the Gulf [Cooperation Council]. It is time to recover our outreach with these countries. We are the biggest investor in the Gulf, we are the second trade partner, but our political outreach, our political engagement is not high enough.
So, we committed to work closely on green transition, to work closer together on development cooperation and humanitarian action. We discussed a lot about the situation in Yemen. We issued a Joint Statement from the two Presidencies and approved a 5-years Joint Cooperation Programme, which includes initiatives on [green] transition, climate change, trade, investment, education and research and people-to-people contacts.
This was the easy and nice part of the meeting. It was a pleasure to receive here the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and to discuss with them our future engagement and cooperation.
This was, as I said, the easy part. The most difficult part was, certainly, the discussion on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Ukrainian situation.
We also discussed about Mali, under current affairs. But we are waiting for some information that we should get in the next days in order to take decisions in the next Foreign Affairs Council about our military missions in Mali.
That being said, I remain at your disposal.
Q. When you say that we are ready to show a strong and united front against a recognition of the so-called People's Republics [of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts], could you please explain what this means in practical terms? Are you implying that, for instance, the sanctions package that has been prepared could be triggered by such a move? And, if not, which are the tools that the European Union have to deter such a move?
That is it. Certainly, if there is an annexation, there will be sanctions. And if there is a recognition, I will put the sanctions on the table and the Ministers will decide. Keep in mind which is the process of sanctions. According to the Treaty, sanctions are being approved by the Foreign Affairs Ministers Council by unanimity under the proposal of the High Representative.
So, it is my responsibility, and I will certainly put on the table the sanctions package that has been prepared if such a thing happens.
Q. You mentioned Belarus as well. Are you ready to push for the sixth sanctions package to be adopted ahead of the next Foreign Affairs Council if the militarisation of the country continues?
If Belarus is part of the aggression, if there is a participation of the Belarus territory or institutions, certainly yes. If there is a Russian aggression that takes place from the Belarusian soil with the agreement, participation and commitment of Belarus, certainly, Belarus will have to be sanctioned on an equal step like Russia.
Q. You just said that should Russia recognise these two separatist Republics, you will put sanctions on the table. Does it mean that you will put the prepared package of sanctions - that you said today yourself that the work on this package has been finished – on the table and will you also convene an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council for that? Or maybe will there be an extraordinary Summit of the EU? And the second question, today Ukrainian Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said that the best signal to Putin would be to provide Ukraine with the perspective of the EU membership. I know, of course, that Member States have different views on this matter, but can you tell if there was a discussion on this point? And if not, do you plan to initiate a discussion on this issue?
I understand very well that for Ukraine, not from now, but since ever, since the independence, the European perspective has been a beacon – as it was for my country, Spain, at the end of the dictatorship. And it is clear that Ukraine has a European perspective, and we are helping Ukraine to develop reforms in order to approach this perspective. This is maybe what is the problem with Russia. Ukraine is not a military threat to Russia, come on. But a fully democratic Ukraine, a prosperous Ukraine, a country whose standards of freedom and prosperity of the European Union, is a mirror that represents a danger for the Russian political system. Certainly, we want a fully democratic and prosperous Ukraine on a way to the European perspective. It does not mean that tomorrow we are going to propose European membership, but certainly we want to help Ukraine be a like-minded country with the same kind of political democratic systems and free market economy that we have.
We have a package prepared. This package has certain components that can be implemented with certain degrees depending on the level of the aggression. So, I am not going to invent a package by myself. I am going to present the proposal that has been built by the European External Action Service and the European Commission, which has played a very important role in preparing this package. And this is what will be presented to the Ministers. Institutionally, it is the Council who takes the decision. You are asking if the European Council could also intervene. Maybe. I am not chairing the European Council, but the European Council is the highest political authority in the European Union. It provides political guidance, but it does not take decisions. And the [Foreign Affairs] Council takes decisions under the guidance of the European Council.
Q. I believe there is some support for a Foreign Affairs Council to be held in Kyiv. Do you sense a majority for that, is that something that you would support? Why are the European Union training mission still going on in Mali when the army has already been involved in two coups, and the soldiers you are training may be working with the Wagner Group?
Nobody talked about sending missions to Mali, our missions are already in Mali. Our missions are there, and they have been there for many years. The question is: Should they continue? It will depend on the conditions that the Junta can offer us about the operation, what we are doing there, how their soldiers are going to be working with or without cooperation with the Russian mercenaries. Certainly, if they have to work in cooperation with the Russian mercenaries, no. For the time being, the missions are there. I am not saying anything about sending missions. The question is: Should we continue? Should we leave? Or should we, as we have done in Central African Republic, remain, but [freezing – we have] frozen our activities by the time being. Everything has to be done according with the conditions, that the Junta will offer us. This is being discussed by the mission. But maybe the confusion is that I said that I am sending a mission. It is not a military mission. My Deputy Secretary General [of the EEAS, Charles Fries] in charge of military missions, together with technical staff, is the one who I sent to Mali, but this is not a military mission. It is to discuss about the military missions who are already out there.
[The Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Kyiv] is a possibility. Holding a meeting of Foreign Affairs Council in Kyiv, yes, why not? But it will depend on the circumstances. The circumstances right now are quite different at the beginning of the meeting at 9:00 in the morning. At 9:00 in the morning, we were still thinking on holding high-level meetings between President Putin and President Biden, or other formats: more people at high-level diplomatic activities. At the end of the day the scenario is completely different because we are no longer talking about summits, but a decision that maybe could be taken by President Putin about the recognition of independence of these oblasts, this [eastern] part of the Ukrainian territory. We are in a completely different scenario.
Q. You were stressing the need for unanimity in the Council to decide on sanctions. In view of this unanimity, to what extent do you think that other fundamental issues to the European Union have to step down importance, as for example, the ruling of the European Court of Justice on Poland and Hungary on the state of the Rule of Law?
I do not see the relationship between the sentence about the Rule of Law in Poland and what we are talking about the Ukrainian crisis – or better said Russian crisis.
Follow-up question: You need unanimity, you said. These countries in the EU Council have a different opinion on Russia maybe, but also on what the fundamental values of the EU are. To ensure unanimity, I wonder to what extent it is necessary now to put these subjects aside?
I still do not see the relationship, because unanimity on the issue of Ukraine is guaranteed. Everybody agrees. There is no need to talk about other questions that are not related with it.
Follow-up question: So, the EU will proceed on these matters?
As I said, I will put the proposal on the table and the Member States will decide by unanimity. Until now, there is a clear and strong unity about it.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-218796