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Informal video conference of Defence Ministers: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference

28.02.2022

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Good afternoon,  

Today it was not [a meeting of] the Foreign Affairs Ministers – who deserved a rest after four meetings in a week. Today I convened the Defence Ministers, because at the end, in practical terms, and once the political decision was taken yesterday, it is a matter of Defence policy and it is up to the Defence Ministers to implement these measures and to use this funding. 

The first purpose of this meeting was to assess the evolution of the military situation on the ground. The military staff of the European Union have provided us with a valuable assessment of the situation, gathering all the intelligence information that the Member States contributed, to our assessment and awareness of the situation.  

Certainly, the Russian military campaign is becoming more and more ruthless. And the Ukrainian armed forces are fighting back with courage. Kyiv resists. For the ones who said that the fall of Kyiv was a matter of hours, this is not the case. Kyiv, Mariupol and Kharkiv are resisting. 

There are a lot of civilian casualties and the flow of exiled people – do not call them migrants. The flow of people looking for shelter escaping the war is increasing, especially in the Polish border. We got the figures of refugees flows from all Member States that have a border with Ukraine. I insist – do not call them migrants. 

In this situation, our support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces is crucial. They need ammunition, healthcare material, defensive purpose arms of any kind, and we are going to provide them - together with Member States and adding up to the efforts of some Member States - the resources we decided to mobilise yesterday from the European Peace Facility. Everyone agreed on that. 

Member states are determined to increase their military support on a bilateral basis to Ukraine and to top up this effort with the funding of the European Union in order to repel the unacceptable actions by [President of Russia, Vladimir] Putin, who is implementing this aggression against Ukraine with the support of Lukashenko, who, by the way, is organising today a Constitutional referendum – in a context of oppression and widespread human rights violations – he is organising a referendum to delete Belarus’ non-nuclear status from the Constitution and make Belarus a base for the nuclear weapons of Russia. Everybody will understand the importance of this decision and the dangerous escalation of the conflict, when Russia is putting on high alert duty its nuclear missiles and its fleet in the Pacific and in the Baltic. 

To be coherent, we will further strengthen our sanctions package against the Belarus regime and target all those who collaborate with the Russian military aggression against Ukraine. 

As I said, yesterday we adopted an unprecedented support package under the European Peace Facility to help Ukrainian armed forces to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. And this was done in a record time.  

I started working on this proposal after the European Union Council. Right after, I started thinking that enough was not enough. We could do more. And after the Foreign Affairs Council, when we decided, finally, to put Putin and Lavrov on the sanctions list, but we were not able to decide on the financial measures to take Russia out of SWIFT, we started thinking that we should be doing more. Immediately, we started preparing this decision, which, on the one hand, mobilises resources to help military to Ukraine, which is – as I said yesterday - a turning point on the history of European integration. Because, until now, it was considered that the European Union, which is a peace Union and not a military Union, was not allowed to supply arms to a third country. That is what we are doing now. This is another taboo that falls.  

 Secondly – and tomorrow at the European Parliament we will discuss about it -, the Defence Ministers have been informed about the decision that will put a strong toll on the Russian economy, because to cut half of the reserves of the Russian Central Bank is going to be very damaging. 

Today the Defence Ministers worked a lot on the coordination of the efforts to make effective all bilateral initiatives together with our funding. We have created a Clearing House cell to keep track of the Ukrainian requests, their needs, and our offers – Member States offers - so as to ensure maximum coordination and effectiveness of our support. In doing so, this cell will be working in coordination with NATO. 

Ukraine has been asking also for support for geospatial intelligence. We are mobilising our EU Satellite Centre, which is placed in Madrid, to work on that.  

From the mobilisation of resources, everything is on track. It has to be done quickly, because the war continues, it cannot wait for bureaucratic procedures, and I think that our answer and the way we are overcoming the institutional difficulties has been quick and showing a new era in our relations with Russia.  

One of the things that the European Union has to do is to decrease, as quickly as possible, its dependence on Russian oil and gas. We pay a very high bill to Putin and this money it is being used to finance its military aggression. 

I also want to differentiate between Putin’s regime and the Russian people. We are sure that the Russian people do not want this war. This is a war started by Putin and by Putin’s regime with a “clique” of oligarchs who are supporting him. 

We are strongly convinced that one of the best ways to fight it is to fight against the black money coming from corruption that supports the people who supports Putin. 

On the measures taken yesterday and approved by legislative procedure by the European Commission at the proposal of the Commission and the High Representative, an important package of these measures are addressed to fight the money that these people, these oligarchs have in our banks and in our financial systems. I am very happy to know that Switzerland has joined us in the implementation of this package, because without the participation of Switzerland, our measures would not have been as effective as needed. That is very good news that Switzerland joins the efforts of the European Union to fight financially, against corruption and against the dark money of the oligarchs who are supporting Putin, who are being targeted by our sanctions and that will continue being sanctioned by our sanctions. Later we will talk more about how to fight against corruption, because corruption is also part of the challenges we have to face. 

We are also worried about the situation in other countries in the neighbourhood, mainly Moldova and Georgia. I am heading to Chisinau on Wednesday to meet with the Moldovan authorities and meet with Ukrainian people who have been forced by Putin’s aggression to leave their homes and look for help, for shelter and for assistance in Moldova. But Moldova is one of the countries in which we believe that Russian pressure can be increasing in the coming days. 

Also in the Western Balkans. As I announced on Friday, I decided to mobilise the reserves of Operation Althea. Up to now, 500 men and women will reinforce this Force on the ground. I thank the countries who will be providing these reinforcements to our capacity of controlling the situation through Operation Althea. I think that it is a prudent and proportionate signal of our determination to maintain stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and face possible destabilisation activities by Russia in the Balkans. 

All that shows that we have been able to react quickly and in unity. It shows the importance of advancing towards the adoption of the Strategic Compass that when I presented it, was a way of stressing that Europe needs to awake on the security and defence dimension. Our efforts on security and defence have to be more evident. From this point of view, I welcome the decision by Germany to take important steps on increasing its defence capacities. But the increase on defence capabilities of the Member States of the European Union has to be done in a coordinated manner. All together, our defence expenditure is 4 times the defence expenditure of Russia and equal to the one of China. But, certainly, we cannot say that it is equally efficient. We have to spend more, but overall we need to spend better. And Europe is the framework in which this increase in the efficiency of our military expenditure has to take place. 

We have no other choice than standing together, as European Union, in support of Ukraine. Keeping in mind that it is not just supporting Ukrainian, it is also supporting our security and the stability of the world. 

This is going to come at a price. This is not a free lunch. Sanctions will backlash, sanctions have a cost. And it is better to explain to our public opinion that this is the truth, but we have to be ready to pay this price now, because, if not, we will have to pay a much bigger price in the future. 

I think that it is important to face that with determination and realism. We are turning a page on the history of the European integration and also on the history of Europe in the post-World War and in the post-Cold War. The relations with Russia will no more be determined by trade, believing that trade will make a political transformation of the regime.  

 We want to support the Russian people. I am just recording another message to the Russian people. We do not want to fight against them, we just want to defend Ukraine first and a way of living after in front of Putin’s regime aggression, which is antithetic with our values and that is why we are standing behind the people of Ukraine.  

 

Q&A 

Q. Can you tell us a bit more about what will be delivered to Ukraine, will there be missile defence, because we see that Russia is using missiles to attack civilian and citizens? Can you tell us about the discussions on how it will be delivered? How will you protect these deliveries so Ukraine can use them? 

Estamos en una guerra. No voy a dar ninguna información que pueda servir a la parte a la que nos enfrentamos. Comprenderá que no le voy a contar a usted con pelos y señales por donde y como vamos a proporcionar a ucrania. Estoy seguro de que Rusia estaría muy contenta de saberlo.  

Hoy las autoridades rusas han dicho que consideraran que la ayuda que la Unión Europea va a dar constituye un acto inamistoso y que atacaran a cualquier persona o entidad que transporte esta ayuda hacia ucrania.  

Usted me va a permitir que no le dé ningún detalle que pueda serles de utilidad. Si le puedo decir que naturalmente pasara por esos países que tienen una frontera con Ucrania. Eso no es desvelar ningún secreto. 

En cuanto a la clase de material ya les dije ayer que se trata de material defensivo, armas y municiones de todos los calibres que les permitan defenderse de la agresión.  

Q. Est-ce que vous pouvez commenter sur la décision du conseil fédéral de s'aligner avec les sanctions de l’union européenne ? Le ministre [des affaires étrangères de la Russie, Sergey] Lavrov a décidé d’annuler la visite de demain à Genève et il a cité la fermeture de l’espace aérienne de l’union européenne. Est-ce que les restrictions s’appliquent aussi aux vols diplomatiques ?  

D’après ce que je sais le gouvernement suisse a décidé de s’aligner complètement avec les sanctions européennes. Ils vont faire exactement la même chose que nous. C'est très bien. C’est parfait. C'est une mauvaise nouvelle pour la Russie.  

Du point de vue de l’unité du monde occidental, du point de vue de l’applicabilité et de l'efficacité de ces sanctions financières … par exemple tous les actifs qui sont déposés dans la banque centrale suisse – s’il y en a – seront gelés.  

Ça ne servirait à rien aux oligarques de transférer leurs actifs en Suisse, parce que les Suisses vont faire exactement la même chose que nous. C’est une très bonne nouvelle.  

Les sanctions permettent parfaitement à M. Lavrov de voyager à Genève. Il y a des exceptions diplomatiques. Nous n’avons pas pris la mesure d’interdire à M. Lavrov de voyager à Genève pour des raisons diplomatiques. Si c’est pour des vacances, non.  

Q. On cyber attacks, can you confirm any cyber-attacks of Russian origin? We had a major attack on Toyota, as one example. On hidden assets, in every harbour of the Mediterranean Sea there are mega yachts flagging the flags of tax havens where the ownership is concealed by Shell companies, and many of their owners are Russian oligarchs whose names are very well known. How will the ownership of those be identified? Will they be affected? And about crypto currencies, are any steps taken? 

No tengo constancia de ese ataque al que se refiere a una empresa en particular, pero ha habido ataques cibernéticos contra varios ministerios en Ucrania, contra varios medios de comunicación en Ucrania. Naturalmente que Rusia lanza ataques cibernéticos. Ucrania nos ha pedido ayuda para defender de los ataques cibernéticos que sufre y sufrirá – me temo – y naturalmente eso formará parte de nuestra ayuda. 

Los activos ocultos de las personas que son objeto de las sanciones que hemos aprobado estos días tendrán que ser localizados. Una vez localizados tendrá que atacarse contra ellos. Tenemos células que lo van a hacer. 

Q. Une précision par rapport à des propos que vous avez tenu hier, sur le fait qu’on allait octroyer à l’Ukraine des avions de chasse. Est-ce que vous pouvez nous donner quelques détails ? Quels pays vont donner ces avions, et par qui seront pilotés ses avions ? Est-ce que les pays qui les donneront à l’Ukraine, s’engageront dès lors dans le conflit et donc il y aurait une présence européenne dans le conflit. On suppose que ce n’est pas, on était un peu troublé par vos déclarations. Ce serait peut-être bien de les préciser. 

Con los 500 millones de euros que hemos movilizado, aunque quisiéramos no podríamos movilizar muchos cazas. No sé si sabe usted cuál es el precio de un caza. 

De manera que no estamos hablando de lo que decidimos con nuestros fondos, pero que ciertamente algunos países europeos pueden, si quieren, bilateralmente movilizar toda clase de ayuda. Ciertamente Ucrania para defenderse necesita medios aéreos y eso forma parte de las peticiones de ayuda que nos ha dirigido.  

Tendrán que ser aquellos países europeos que dispongan de cazas que puedan ser pilotados por los pilotos de la fuerza aérea ucraniana, los que tengan que instrumentar esa ayuda.  

Q. You mentioned that Poland will serve as a logistical hub for the EU military help to Ukraine. Today Ministers decided to create a Clearing House. Is it the same, how does it work, how many people and where would it be geographically? 

No, una cámara de compensación es un instrumento financiero. No hace falta moverse de Bruselas para instrumentarla. Una Clearing House se trata de hacer un matching entre oferta y demanda. Eso se puede hacer perfectamente con un teléfono y una hoja de papel. Quién pide y quién da. Y no dar dos veces lo mismo, no dar cosas que no se necesitan y no dejar cosas peticiones sin atender. 

Ucrania está planteando peticiones. Hay 27 países que las están atendiendo. Se trata de que nos coordinemos a la hora de atender las peticiones de Ucrania y que no nos dejemos ninguna sin atender. Evitar duplicaciones y carencias. Eso se hace desde aquí, con un ordenador desde Bruselas.  

Otra cosa es transportar todo el material. Con dinero no se combate, se combate con armas y hay que transportarlas. Eso requiere una logística física, no de papeles, muy importante que tendrán que organizar los estados miembros a través de aquellos que son estados fronterizos con Ucrania. Permítanme que después de lo que he oído que decían algunos responsables militares rusos, no les dé más detalles. 

Q. How can we keep energy out of this? It is clear that for Russians now energy could become a way to damage the EU, because we have 40% of our energy coming from Russia. How can energy remain outside all this? 

Energy will not be out of this conflict. Like it or not, we have a dependence on Russian oil and gas. We are going to decrease this dependence as quickly as possible, and this is an existential policy.  

For years we have been talking about decreasing and we have been increasing. It is time to decrease, seriously. It means renewables and hydrogen. There is going to be turbulence in the markets of energy. It is easy to understand, it will happen. It is happening. It will increase prices and prices will be paid by consumers.  

We can introduce subsidies, policies to protect the most vulnerable, but we are in a situation in which – and that is what I was saying at the beginning - our actions and reactions against Russia will have economic consequences and we have to be prepared for that. Do not believe that we can do whatever we need to do without having consequences. 

Look at the consequences that the Ukrainian people are paying. They are paying a lot of consequences. They are resisting, and thank God [President of Ukraine, Volodymyr] Zelensky is not the kind of leader that escapes hidden in the car. He will stay there, resisting. And we have to support him.  

It is going to have a cost. And if we do not pay this cost today; we will pay much more tomorrow.

 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-219432

Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Paloma Hall Caballero
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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