Informal videoconference of Foreign Affairs Ministers: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference
Check against delivery!
Thank you to all of you for attending this press conference after the fourth meeting of the [EU] Foreign Affairs Ministers in a week.
Everybody perceives that we are in unprecedented times, that we are living a historic moment. And I know that the word “historic” is often overused and abused, but this is certainly a historic moment. For two reasons.
First, because it is the first time since the end of World War II that a military power invades another sovereign state in violation of the international rules. And, secondly, because Europeans have been reacting in a way that has surprised a lot of people – to start with the Russians themselves – and it is often said that the most important advances in the European construction are made through crisis, during the crisis or due to the crisis, and I believe that maybe we are in one of these moments, when a crisis allows us to advance, [to] move forward. And another taboo has fallen these days, the taboo that the European Union cannot use its resources to provide arms to a country that is being aggressed by another.
Yes, these are unprecedented times. Because the war is back in our borders. That is why it is a defining moment for European history, a page of history has been turned and we have been working around the clock during these days. And I am proud to see that the European Union has been able to show its capacity to deliver, to help its neighbours with the idea of urgency. This is good, to be able to deliver with the idea of urgency when one of our neighbours and partners is being invaded by Russia.
During the weekend, we have been working very hard and we want to take some decisions that should be in place, agreed and [with] a Legal Act implementing them before tomorrow, when the Central Banks will restart working.
This was an informal meeting, you know that it does not take specific decisions or concrete actions. It provides political agreements that will be converted on legal instruments and precise and concrete decisions by written procedure in the following hours.
But the [Foreign Affairs] Council has been giving its assessment, its support, its political agreement for a package of support to the Ukrainian armed forces. For new sanctions, for diplomatic engagements in order to isolate Russia, for measures to support Ukraine and the region, and measures to counter disinformation.
Since there is a fully-fledged war in Ukraine, and we want to do everything to support Ukraine, we have decided to use our capacities to provide arms, lethal arms, lethal assistance to the Ukrainian army for a value of €450 million support package and €50 million more for the non-lethal supplies – [such as] fuel and protective equipment.
All this will be covered by our European Peace Facility and inter-governmental fund. This is the first time in history that we will be doing that. Everybody agreed – or at least did not obstruct – this decision.
I want also to thank Poland, who has offered to serve as a logistic hub for the transfer of this material assistance to Ukraine. Because now we have approved the financing. Tomorrow, the Defence Ministers will meet in order to coordinate how we convert this financing into material and how this material is being transported to the front line, to the Ukrainian armed forces fighting against the Russian invasion. Thanks to Poland for serving as a hub. We will also work to enhance the cyber-defence of Ukraine.
On sanctions, we have agreed to increase [the number] of people and entities that are going to be subject to restrictive measures. The full list will be finished by the Coreper and will be published tomorrow.
This includes Russian oligarchs and businessmen, whose listing carries huge economic impact, and political figures who hold key roles on Putin’s system in Russia - both the ones who disseminate propaganda and military.
In addition, we have decided to close the European Union airspace to the Russian aircrafts. Not a single Russian aircraft will be able to land or to take off from the European Union airfields.
In accordance to the agreements that President [of the European Commission, Ursula] von der Leyen already anticipated yesterday after working with the G7 Members, we are taking a package of measures that the Council has approved - with some questions about the scope – but with full support to these measures that are really effectively crippling the Russian financial market. We are excluding a certain number of Russian banks from SWIFT – you know that this was something that we have been talking about and you, the press, have been asking about it for days. It was discussed at the European Union Council the other day. At that moment there was not the necessary consensus, but immediately after we continued working on it, because – as we said – everything is on the table. We have continued with that, working with our like-minded partners, because such a measure has to be taken in coordination with other countries - it is difficult to take this kind of measure alone – and reached an agreement to take out of SWIFT a certain number of Russian banks and impose restrictive measures that will paralyse the assets of the Russian Central Bank. More than half or about a half of the financial reserves of the Russian Central Bank will be frozen thanks to this measure. Because they are held in banks of the G7 countries, and this represents, more or less, half of the reserves of the Russian government. This will be frozen, and this is going to be affecting a lot of the financial system of Russia.
As I said, this is being done in coordination with our international partners with the clear message that Russians who enable the invasion of Ukraine will have to pay a very high price for this action.
We are going after the wealth of Putin’s elite, people who support him and benefit from this regime. And, in addition to this new package of sanctions, we are advancing work on sanction regimes targeting corruption specifically as well as foreign information manipulation and interference.
Third line of work of the [Foreign] Ministers today was to engage in diplomatic efforts - they are already producing results, as you have seen in the vote at the United Nations Security Council, no one supporting Russia – and work in order to make the widest possible international condemnation and isolation of Russia. Russia will be isolated by the international community.
One of the results of our collective diplomatic outreach was the vote in the United Nations Security Council and now it will be on the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, which is expected on Wednesday.
We are carrying out an intensive diplomatic effort to isolate Russia as much as possible in international and regional organisations.
The Council of Europe has already suspended Russia’s right of vote. Discussions in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are ongoing. And there will be an important debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday. We will continue on that line.
The fourth is to support the people affected by the conflict, who will be in need of humanitarian assistance, people who are leaving the country – we cannot call them migrants, they are just refugees looking for asylum, escaping the war. We are extremely worried about the humanitarian dimension of this tragedy, and we need to act rapidly in order to support these people and support the countries that will receive them. We have activated our EU Civil Protection Mechanism and 18 Member States are channelling critical humanitarian equipment to Ukraine. People in Ukraine and people leaving Ukraine. We will have to face a challenging situation, but we are ready for it. Let us see what happens in the following days, but certainly the number of people leaving Ukraine is increasing.
Last point that will interest you, that work in the information industry. We need to tackle disinformation. We need to counter the Russian state-controlled narrative.
Because disinformation is becoming massive and is now shifting to full-fledged war propaganda.
Look at our reports, look at the website of [the European External Action Service] Strategic Communications [team], EUvsDisinfo, and you will see how Russian media describes what is happening in Ukraine and how are they describing President [of Ukraine, Volodymyr] Zelenskyy.
We need to be vigilant about obvious manipulation because Putin not only wants to conquer space, he also wants to conquer people’s minds. We have to fight against it.
For that, we are going to ban Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting in the European Union. Because they are the champions of information manipulation.
We also agreed to strengthen our support to independent media in Ukraine and Russia.
Last but not least, we are worried for what might happen in the whole region. We are afraid that Russia will not stop in Ukraine. The Russian influence can start working in the neighbour countries, Moldova and Georgia, and will also have an impact in the Western Balkans.
We need to pay lot of attention to what is happening there. I am planning to visit Moldova in the same way that I visited Ukraine on the first days of this year.
We have to remain vigilant on the impact of the crisis in the Western Balkans and look at what is happening, at the positions, at the alignment with our foreign policy of the countries in the Western Balkans who are candidates to the European Union.
To conclude, this is a defining moment for the European Union to demonstrate strategic and global leadership in a united manner. To act united and quickly. This is also an occasion to think about what the European Union is and what we want the European Union to be, because the challenges that we are going to face as Europeans will increase. We have to be prepared for that, for us and for the future generations.
We say often that the European Union was born in the aftermath of World War II, because we wanted to get peace and prosperity. And we got peace and prosperity. The European Union is a peace project. We want to continue fighting for peace, for us and humankind.
We want to keep peace in Europe, but we have to be prepared to defend this peace. What is happening in Ukraine will be an awakening moment for the people who believe that, only united, Europeans will be able to face the challenges of the future.
Q. Why are you only cutting some Russian banks from SWIFT?
Certainly not. To disconnect the financial system of a country that is strongly interrelated with other countries and economies cannot be cut with scissors overnight.
We have learned some things from the Iranian experience, and we believe we have to keep the possibility for the financial system to work to allow people to use and send money to their relatives, and to pay some things that are certainly necessary to continue exchanging with Russia.
This degree of disconnection is carefully calibrated to inflict the maximum damage to the financial system of Russia while keeping the minimum level of interconnection with other financial systems.
Q. Are you afraid that Putin is going to use chemical weapons? Have you discussed about this?
Just to mention the possibility of using nuclear weapons is such a gigantic irresponsibility, that it says a lot about the personality of who is doing that.
Frankly, one cannot imagine someone able to say these kinds of things. He told us whoever will interfere in our attack to Ukraine, whoever could have the idea of supporting Ukrainians will suffer an attack as they have never suffered or imagined.
This is a reference to the use of nuclear weapons.
We will continue supporting Ukraine.
Q. Putin alerted the nuclear deterrence system in Russia. Did you discuss this? What is yours and the Ministers evaluation?
On the first question, I have already answered. I have nothing else to say. We are all aware of these threats, but this does not prevent us of doing what we think we have to do.
Q. About SWIFT. Can we know the number of banks that will be excluded from SWIFT?
You will see tomorrow when the list of banks affected will be published. There is a certain number of Russian banks. Works is in progress. You will have to wait a few hours. We are working against the clock because everything needs to be done before tomorrow morning.
Q. You mentioned the military material to be sent to Ukraine in the value of several hundreds of millions of euros. How do you envision to get this material into Ukraine? Are you not afraid that the moment it crosses the border it will be attacked by the Russians? The second question is about the ban of Russia Today and Sputnik. How exactly are you going to keep them from broadcasting into Europe, because what is going to keep them from disseminating their stuff from servers located in Russia into the European Union?
We are preparing the measures necessary to prevent the dissemination of this media in the European union. We have technical ways of doing that.
We are going to supply arms and even fighter jets. We are not talking just about ammunition; we are providing the most important arms to go to war.
Minister Kuleba has been asking us that they need the type of fighter jets that the Ukrainian army is able to operate. We know what kind of planes and some Member States have these kinds of planes.
For the time being the Western borders of Ukraine are still open. We are going to provide them not only with these 500 million [under the European Peace Facility]. Apart from that [the European Peace Facility], you have to include all the material that several Member States are deciding to provide by themselves. This material is already on its way.
Look at what Germany has said. I want to welcome the important speech of the German Chancellor [Olaf] Scholtz in the Bundestag which also represents an historical commitment of Germany not only in solidarity with Ukraine, but also a significant increase of Germany's defence efforts.
I think that Germany, like many Member States have understood that if you want to avoid war, you have to be prepared to resist people who want to use war to put their order above the independency and freedom of other countries.
Q. Did I understand well that the measure concerning the Central Bank only concerns half of the reserves? Why only half? Why not blocking it completely? A second question, I am curious about the ban on Sputnik and Russia Today, how is this going to be implemented? It sounds strange to me that the EU can ban some media.
Why curious? We consider that these are sources of continuous disinformation and brainwashing, and we want to fight against disinformation. We are going to do that.
Understand me well. What I said is that half of the financial reserves of the Russian Central Bank are placed in banks of the G7 members, and they will block it. The amount of the reserves is placed in banks where we can act is more or less, a little bit less than 50%. We cannot block the reserves of the Russian banks that are in Moscow, or in China. In the last years, Russia has been placing their reserves more and more in countries where we could not block. Russia has been preparing financially for a situation like this one. Abandoning the dollar and putting their reserves in euros and in yuans, the Chinese currency. They have been taking their reserves from the capacity of being blocked. But there are still more or less 50% of these reserves that can be blocked, and I wonder if you realise the importance for a country to lose half of their reserves.
Q. Can you confirm that Belarus has offered its territory for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine? Is there any interaction between you and Russian diplomacy?
No. I cannot confirm.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-219382