Foreign Affairs Council: Remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference
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Thank you to all of you for attending this press conference after a [Foreign Affairs] Council which has had a historic feeling, at least for two reasons.
First, for the Danish Foreign Minister [Jeppe Kofod] informing us formally about the end of the opt-out and announcing the intention of Denmark to join the European Union’s defence policy and defence cooperation.
This is certainly an important step. It will make us stronger and I am looking forward to cooperating with our Danish partners on strengthening the European defence and security.
The second issue on which the [Foreign Affairs] Council has been working on, is the [European] Commission’s Opinion on the membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. You know that the European Council later this week should send the signal that we start the preparation for the European integration of these three countries. This is a powerful signal. This is a powerful signal that should be heard not only in Ukraine, not only in [the Republic of] Moldova and Georgia, but should echo loudly beyond our borders as a manifestation of our strength and unity and support to these three countries, and especially to the one that is being aggressed by Russia.
The Ministers [of Foreign Affairs] stressed their full determination to continue supporting Ukraine from any point of view – militarily, putting pressure on Russia and working with [the] international community. I want to stress the importance of this commitment, because Russia’s war against Ukraine is having damaging effects on Ukraine. Certainly, we see it every day on our TV screens – we see how buildings are being destroyed and people are being killed. But also, [damaging effects] on the whole world, through food and energy prices and it is also affecting the global economy. We are very much aware of that. We have spent a lot of time discussing these negative consequences of Russia’s aggression worldwide – not against Ukraine alone, worldwide.
Russia is blocking Ukrainian exports. Not us, Russia. Russia is destroying [Ukrainian] ports and destroying food stocks, destroying transport infrastructure. Russia, not us. And that has sparked a global food crisis. When more than 20 million [tons] of grains are being blocked in Ukrainian storage [facilities], and someone is preventing this food from reaching the consumers, some will suffer [from] hunger. This is a deliberate attempt to use food as a war weapon. This is a deliberate attempt to create hunger in the world, in order to put pressure on the world, and on the European Union, and on Ukraine. This is what is happening. And [following] the typical playbook of the Russian propaganda – they create a problem and then they blame the others. And they blame the European Union’s sanctions. They blame the European Union’s sanctions as the ones responsible for this food crisis. It is not our sanctions; it is the Russian actions.
We are listening to the concerns of some African leaders about the consequences of our sanctions. I informed my colleagues, [EU Foreign] Ministers, that I have sent a letter to all African Foreign Affairs Ministers, explaining how our sanctions are being tailored – how they work, whom they affect, what can be allowed under the sanctions or not. And, at the same time, saying that we are ready to study, in cooperation with the United Nations, cases that could happen because of overreaction, over-compliance by some economic actors or some market avoidances by some economic actors. They do not do what they could do. It is not forbidden. But, certainly, if Russia sends a warning saying that it is very dangerous to navigate in the Black Sea, this increases the price of insurance.
And Russia has put a tax on exports. People complain about high prices. If you put a tax on exports, the prices will go up. Who put the tax on exports? Russia, not us. We are ready to study any case in which something wrong happens from the point of view of the economic actors. Maybe - then we have to study it - the sanctions against Belarus taken before the war on the export of potash, can affect the dissemination of this product around the world. But our sanctions are not responsible for the food and fertilisers’ trade in the world, because we only take decisions that affect the European Union Member States, not third countries. I repeat this once again. I will send these letters to all my colleagues from Africa to explain what we are doing to respond to the food crisis and how we engage with the authorities. And we are going to send letters from the [European] Commission to all financial actors and to all economic actors explaining what they can do. Because our sanctions do not forbid them to participate in the trade of food and fertilisers with Russia and third countries.
On the other hand, we had to act - and we are acting. We have pledged €1 billion to address food insecurity in the Sahel alone - €1 billion. €600 million for urgent support to strengthen food systems’ resilience in the Horn of Africa and €225 million euros to mitigate the effects of potential emerging food crisis in North Africa and Middle East. This is part of the Action plan on geopolitical consequences of the Russian aggression. And I want to stress the importance of this document – an analysis and an Action plan to face the geopolitical consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. I have presented it to the [Foreign] Ministers and asked them to engage and support this plan, showing solidarity, boosting food production on the ground, stabilising trade and cooperating multilaterally. It is very much important to counter this Russian propaganda and I will go back mainly afterwards to this issue that I have been asked [about] this morning, about this alleged blockade between Russia and Kaliningrad through the Lithuanian territory.
We also had a discussion with the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Mr [Sameh] Shoukry, who joined us for lunch. We focused on two issues: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, unavoidably, and the upcoming Presidency of Egypt of the COP27. We endorsed the new Partnership Priorities of our Association Agreement with Egypt.
Yesterday, we had the Association Council meeting. We discussed our relations, including human rights issues. We discussed about Russia’s aggression [against Ukraine] and about the COP27 preparation. We cannot forget that climate change remains a global priority. We will support Egypt for the COP27 to be a success. What does it mean “a success”? A success means making progress on the issues that are important to Africa and to all of us.
In Africa, there are 600 million people that have never seen an electric bubble. 600 million people roughly who are not using electricity every day. So, when we talk about austerity, we are not thinking about these people, certainly not. The world is facing a new challenge - to fight against climate change; increase in energy prices, increase in hydrocarbon prices – which transmit to electricity. And this is another reason to review the rule that govern the electricity market in Europe.
I am happy to see that the [European] Commission has already taken the decision of building a new system for electricity prices in Europe and not making it dependent on the price of gas. This is part of our fight against climate change; to fix reasonable rules and to have a good system to fix energy prices.
Then we discussed about the situation in the Horn of Africa. [A region which has] a lot of fragilities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and by [Russia’s] war against Ukraine. If you have a look at the number of people suffering hunger before the pandemic, after the pandemic and after the war, you will be terrified by the increase in the number of people suffering from a dire economic situation and on the edge of poverty and hunger. This is the sad situation in the world and, especially, in some vulnerable regions as the Horn of Africa.
We reviewed the situation in Sudan, where one of the most promising democratic transitions in the continent - that we have been supporting a lot - has been failing. Now we support the mechanism set up by the United Nations and the African Union to facilitate the finding of a political solution.
On Somalia, we agreed on the new momentum to seize following the election of the new President [of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud], to push for economic and political reforms and to transfer [responsibilities from] the African Union’s mission there - that we contribute to fund - to the Somali armed and security forces.
Finally, the big discussion was about Ethiopia, where there is some progress, but not enough for a full normalisation of our relationship. There has been progress, but we should be cautious, and any move should be conditional and transactional, depending on the improvement of the humanitarian access, the restoring of basic services in Tigray and the lifting of restrictions on fuel and fertilisers. These are the most pressing issues to save millions of people from death.
All that should not prevent us from continue engaging on supporting Ukraine fighting the war. We talk about the food crisis, we talk about the geopolitical consequences of the war, but do not forget that the war continues. This is an unpleasant reality. The war continues and it is bound to continue, paying a high toll on lives, every day. With a systematic bombing by the Russian army of any kind of objective, civilian or military, in Ukraine.
It seems that [President of Russia, Vladimir] Putin wants to destroy Ukraine physically. He wants to destroy its infrastructure, its cities, in order to annihilate the same idea of the Ukrainian nation.
That is why we will continue supporting Ukraine. We reviewed with the [Foreign] Ministers the situation of our military support, the funding through the European Peace Facility and the efforts that all Member States are doing to continue supporting Ukraine as long as needed. And, at the same time, asking for a ceasefire that could allow the exports of food.
If you keep the food that people need to eat, then you are using hunger as part of a war. And this has a name. The world is facing a really dramatic situation with the consequences of the war and with Russia’s attitude.
Q. Tout d'abord, concernant le soutien continu convenu par les ministres [des Affaires étrangères] à l'Ukraine, notamment sur le plan militaire. Est-ce qu'il est question désormais de passer à une nouvelle tranche de l'EPF [Facilité européenne pour la paix] ? Et plus précisément, on pense que les Ukrainiens ont besoin d'armements très spécifiques pour protéger le port d'Odessa d'une éventuelle invasion navale russe. Est-ce qu'il y a des perspectives en la matière ? L’autre question est sur la crise alimentaire : est-ce que vous diriez aujourd'hui que l'Europe a perdu cette fameuse battle of narratives [bataille de narratifs] dont vous avez souvent parlé ?
Non, nous n'avons pas perdu “the battle of narratives “[bataille de narratifs], mais il y a une bataille de narratifs. Il y a une bataille, et il faut la mener. Ce n'est pas parce qu’on a raison que les autres vont nous donner raison gratuitement. Alors on fait face à l’attitude typique de la Russie à savoir, devant un problème : “c’est la faute des autres”. Et on prépare un discours pour dire : « ce sont les autres qui sont fautifs ». Et ça, il faut y travailler, il faut s'y engager, parce qu'il y a des gens qui ont des raisons de le croire. C'est pour cette raison que j'ai écrit ces lettres aux ministres [des Affaires étrangères] africains, et c'est pour cela que nous sommes ouverts à discuter de tous les problèmes concrets qu’il puisse y avoir. Mais ne comparez pas un problème concret qui peut affecter l'activité d’un assureur, ou d'un transporteur, ou d'une banque, dans une transaction concrète avec le fait qu'il y a plus de 20 millions de tonnes [de graines] bloquées en Ukraine, et qu'il y a un impôt de 30% sur les exportations du blé russes. Vous ne saviez pas ? Ah bien sûr, les prix montent. Si vous mettez un impôt de 30%, les prix vont monter. Il faut donc mener cette bataille-là (de narratifs). Les batailles on les gagne si on les mène. Et j’ai appelé aujourd’hui tous les ministres à faire cela de façon proactive. C'est pour cela que j'ai écrit ces lettres. C'est pour cela qu'on sera très attentifs, et très coopératifs avec les Nations unies pour résoudre tout problème qu'il puisse y avoir. Mais une chose est de reconnaître que, peut-être, il y a un problème de mise en œuvre. C’est une autre chose de dire que c'est la faute des sanctions européennes, quand c'est bien évident que les sanctions européennes ne visent pas les exportations de l'agriculture russe. S'il y a un problème avec le potasse biélorusse, on l’étudiera. Mais il faut étudier des problèmes concrets, spécifiques - ici, qui affectent -, et pas le discours général sur les sanctions européennes comme quoi elles seraient coupables. Ça, c'est le pire discours de désinformation, et les Russes investissent beaucoup [dans cela]. Et nous, il faut qu'on fasse la même chose. (Investir beaucoup pour combattre cette bataille de narratifs).
Et oui, je ne veux pas entrer dans les détails de quelles sont les armes qu'on va fournir à l'Ukraine. Tout ce que je dirais pourrait être utilisé par les adversaires, les ennemis, de l'Ukraine. Mais on n'est pas entré dans le détails d’une 5e tranche [de la Facilité européen pour la paix]. On n’a pas encore épuisé la 4e [tranche], et les États membres sont en train de réfléchir de quelle manière on peut rendre compatible l'aide militaire à l'Ukraine avec les besoins que nous avons aussi d’aider d'autres pays avec lesquels nous travaillons dans le domaine militaire. Et pour l'instant, du point de vue financier, cela marche.
Q. You said there are no restrictions or sanctions on food exports or fertiliser exports, but what about President [of Senegal] Macky Sall’s complaint that the SWIFT sanctions are hurting African countries’ ability to purchase food and fertilisers? Do you take this complaint seriously? Are you considering any adaptations based on it? Do you think that these efforts to send letters to African Foreign Ministers will do enough to get some countries on the same page? You are saying that Russia's war is to blame and not EU sanctions for this global food crisis, but clearly some are not on the same page. Is there something more you can do there?
In a constructive mode, if there is a problem, we will solve it, but I have to know the problem. Nobody says that our sanctions affect directly agricultural and fertilisers exports. Nobody is saying that. If someone said that at the beginning, they are not saying it anymore, because it is clear that it is not true.
On the banks, some Russian banks have been taken out of the SWIFT system, but not the whole financial system of Russia is de-SWIFTed. If we can pay up for our gas, everybody can pay for their wheat. On that, the President of Senegal is very right; if you can pay for your gas, I should be able to pay for my wheat. I agree completely. We have been in touch with the Senegalese authorities asking about their concrete problems, and for the time being, I am not aware of any concrete problem. Maybe in other African countries, we are in touch with them. Maybe it affects the potash exported, not from Russia, but from Belarus. We are looking at that. We are looking carefully at how the imports of products coming from Russia or Belarus are evolving in each and every African country, in order to identify the problem. If there is some problem, it will be identified and it will be solved.
We are going to send letters to the banks, explaining them what they can do, but certainly I cannot avoid that some financial institutions - like it is happening with the Iranian sanctions – decide voluntarily not to participate on the trade. This is what is called overreaction or over compliance. And this has to be faced by providing information to the banks, providing information to the insurance companies, providing information to the transportation systems. But one thing is some practical problems related with over-compliance and another completely different thing is that our sanctions create the problem. No, that is not the case. Let us see what happens with the potash from Belarus, but I have seen some African countries that have been increasing their imports of Belarusian potash. Some African countries have been increasing and others decreasing. The problem should not be blamed on our sanctions.
Q. Russia today threatened retaliatory actions to defend its own interests in response to Kaliningrad rail - the decision by the Lithuanian to restrict rail shipments. Lithuania says that everything is doing is in line with EU law and its acting on behalf of the EU when it does that. Do you believe personally that Lithuania’s decision and actions are covered by the EU sanctions? Are you worried that Russia's threat of retaliation risks a larger crisis in the Baltic region?
Thank you for the question because it allows me to give a complete explanation that this morning, I was not able to do because I didn't have enough information. Now I have it. Certainly I am always worried about the Russian retaliations. By nature prudence is better than being worried, but let me explain you what is going on in this issue. Let's be factual.
First, the land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia has not been stopped nor banned. There is no blockade. First, there is no blockade. The land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia has not been stopped or banned; fact number one.
Fact number two: transit of passengers and goods that are not sanctioned continues. Third, as my Lithuanian colleague [Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis] has assured and explained, Lithuania has not taken any unilateral national restrictions and only applies the European Union sanctions. So, the accusation against Lithuania “Lithuania is implementing Lithuanian sanctions” is false. Pure propaganda. Lithuania has not taken any unilateral national restrictions. But, in accordance with European Union sanctions there are imports and export restrictions that apply in relation with certain goods, including the prohibition of transit from those goods through European Union territory. Lithuania is doing nothing else than implementing the guidelines provided by the Commission. Lithuania has been asking to the Commission, which has been providing guidelines and Lithuania is implementing these guidelines.
If the transit through European Union territories are prohibited for some goods, then it is prohibited. But once again, we are in a positive mood, in a precautionary mode. We will double-check the legal aspects in order to verify that we are completely aligned with any kind of law. But Lithuania is not guilty, it is not implementing national sanctions, it is not implementing their will. Whatever they are doing has been the consequences of previous consultation with the Commission who has provided guidelines and they are implementing the guidelines. Let's double check, if these guidelines are the right ones, in accordance with any kind of rule that can be asked for.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-226980