Russia/Ukraine: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate


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Señora presidenta del Parlamento Europeo [Roberta Metsola], señor presidente del Consejo Europeo [Charles Michel], señora presidenta de la Comisión [Europea Ursula von der Leyen], señoras y señores diputados y diputadas,

Lo que ocurra en Ucrania marcará el futuro de la humanidad. Todos los seres humanos deberían estar preocupados por lo que allí ocurra, porque si de nuevo se impone la ley del más fuerte y un país puede amenazar a otro y puede atacarlo y desagregarlo territorialmente, echaremos marcha atrás en la historia.

El gran éxito de la Unión Europea es, precisamente, el haber renunciado a la guerra como forma de resolver los conflictos. Y por eso tenemos que estar con Ucrania, tratando de prevenir una guerra en nuestras fronteras. Eso forma una parte fundamental de lo que llamamos política común de seguridad y defensa, que tengo el honor de intentar desarrollar. Y la presencia aquí, hoy, en este pleno, de las instituciones de la Unión: Consejo Europeo, con su presidente; la Comisión Europea, con su presidenta; y el Consejo [de la Unión Europea], al que tengo el honor de representar y presidir sus formaciones de asuntos exteriores y de defensa, marca la unidad europea frente a la posible agresión de Rusia contra Ucrania.

Esta unidad se ha hecho más fuerte y patente en estos días. Y creo que es una de las grandes consecuencias positivas de esta crisis. Ha habido una aproximación común y todos los Estados europeos han respondido unánimemente a una respuesta que deberá concretarse en lo que llamamos sanciones o medidas coercitivas según el Tratado. Sanciones que deberá aprobar el Consejo [de la Unión Europea], bajo la propuesta del Alto Representante y que habrán sido elaboradas con la inestimable cooperación de la Comisión Europea, para medir cuáles son sus costes y sus consecuencias. Y, ciertamente, bajo la dirección política del Consejo Europeo. Eso ocurrirá si Rusia agrede a Ucrania.

Pero déjenme que insista en el aspecto fundamental de nuestra Unión, que es la consecuencia más positiva de esta crisis. Una crisis que se ha basado en la amenaza a la integridad territorial de un Estado. Una crisis que afecta a la estructura de seguridad en Europa, que no puede ser puesta en cuestión a través de amenazas. Una crisis que afecta al derecho de cada Estado soberano a escoger libremente sus estructuras de seguridad y sus relaciones internacionales.

Allow me to talk a little bit about which has been the role of European diplomacy in these events. It has been said that Europe was missing in action. We have heard that the Europeans were missing in action and that things were happening without our presence and without our participation, led by the United States, who were negotiating over our head. I think that we have to respond to this criticism, which seems unfounded for several reasons.

First, because the Member States of the European Union have been consistently debating the issue of security in Europe and Ukraine and we have achieved a remarkable unity. [Secondly] Because several Member States - France and Germany - have taken a number of political initiatives to promote a peaceful settlement of the crisis. And these initiatives have been carried out in coherence with the position of the European Union and in conditions of great transparency. And third, because Russia deliberatively tried to ignore the existence of the European Union by sending letters only to the United States and NATO in December. Considering that we are completely irrelevant and that we have nothing to say about the security issues in Europe. For Moscow, the security in Europe is being defined in Washington.

Later, when they noticed that despite this dismissive attitude, nothing was going on, Mr [Sergey] Lavrov [Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia] finally decided to send a letter to the 27 Member States that he had ignored until now. Why such a U-turn in the Russian position?

[It is] For two reasons. First, because they realised that the European front was not cracked and that the Atlantic solidarity was very strong. So, he tried the manoeuvre, which was to send letters to the 27 Member States, hoping to have 27 different answers. But, in this case, Mr Lavrov did not succeed, because we sent him a single letter, saving him the time to read 27 letters, all of them equal. Just one. One letter representing the position of the European Union on behalf of the 27 Member States. And this is a good example of how we, Europeans, can work together, and together with our allies, with the United States and other like-minded countries, with which we have had a continuous and very positive coordination. So, we have been present, participating in the negotiations - if we can call them negotiations or, at least, conversations - until now.What can we envisage next? Well, we do not know, nobody knows. There are encouraging signs, but also very worrisome events, like the vote in the Duma [yesterday] asking Putin to recognise the independence of the two, let us say, “republics” in the Donbas. We do not know what Putin is going to do. But what is clear is that we have to continue offering both things at the same time: the will to negotiate, to be ready to participate in talks – because, yes, Russia has also security concerns that have to be taken into consideration - and on the other hand, to prepare our capacity to respond, our dissuasion tools, sanctions, as the President of the Commission and the President of the Council have been referring to.

On that, we have been working, and on that, we are ready to act. But, most of all, we are ready to continue negotiations, talks, in order to look for a diplomatic solution to the worst crisis that Europe is living since the end of the Cold War.

And I repeat again, this crisis not only affects the Ukrainians, not only the Europeans, it affects the direction of humankind.

Thank you very much.

Link to the video: (from 23:50)


Closing remarks 

Gracias, señora presidenta, 

Well, the intensity and the extent of our exchanges today – because there have been almost 100 interventions – covering the full political spectrum of this House shows how important the situation is and underlines the gravity of the situation.

Guy Verhofstadt is very much right - apart from the far right and the far left. There has been a remarkable unity among the Members of the Parliament, which represents, more or less, the same unity between Member States. With nuances, certainly, but with a strong unity among us. 

The issue – and Guy has already said that – is that Ukraine is not a military threat to Russia, but this is a political threat, because if Ukraine builds a vibrant democracy and goes into a prosperous economy, then it will be an example. And in Putin's Russia, after 20 years of his government, the economy is in bad shape and the system is more and more autocratic, even more authoritarian.

Even today we can see that the opposition politician [Alexei] Navalny inside the penal colony is starting another trial against him, relatively without any possibility of observation. So, if Ukraine continues advancing on its reforms, building a democracy and building a prosperous economy, this is something that Putin’s Russia can certainly not look with good eyes. But Ukrainians have certainly made their choice and I think that most of them prefer to live in a democracy, with rule of law and a free-market economy rather than looking at what is happening in Russia. And this is the real issue: how can we support Ukraine on this path to democracy and economic prosperity? 

It is impossible to answer, or even to refer to all the questions that you have been raising today. I just want to answer in particular to Hilde Vautmans, when she was asking me directly “Can you ensure that this unity has not been jeopardised by the initiatives taken by some Member States?”. Certainly, I can assure you. Plusieurs membres de l’Union Européenne, en particulière la France, et je vais le dire en français. En particulière le Président [de la France, Emmanuel] Macron, mais aussi l’Allemagne, ont pris des initiatives politiques pour essayer de favoriser un règlement pacifique de la crise. Mais toutes ces initiatives ont été menées en cohérence avec la position de l'Union européenne et dans des conditions de grande transparence. On a été informés avant et après de ces initiatives. Et je pense que au tour de l’Ukraine il s’est bâti un climat de confiance entre les états membres à propos de la crise. Je pense que c’est la meilleure façon de répondre à l’agression russe.

Donc, soyez tranquilles, mesdames et messieurs les députés. Les initiatives qui ont été prises ici et là par plusieurs États membres n'ont pas affaibli l’unité européenne. Au contraire, ils nous ont permis d'être plus actifs et participants dans les démarches diplomatiques qui ont eu lieu.

Some other Members have been asking “You have been discussing and negotiating with Russia and there have not been any kind of concessions”. Certainly not. First, we have not been negotiating with Russia. So, if there is no negotiation, there are no concessions. We have just answered letters in a very much united way. And, certainly, my Political Director [Enrique Mora] held with his Russian counterpart in January talks about the European situation in general and they discussed about the political situation around the Ukrainian crisis. But we cannot consider that negotiations. So, do not be worried about possible concessions from one side or the other.

Many issues [have been raised] about the diversification of the energy supply, but I think that to that the President of the Commission has given a very complete answer and all the work that she personally and my colleagues Commissioners and myself we have been doing with other supplier of gas: Norway, Algeria, Azerbaijan, the Unites States, talking also to countries in the Pacific who can reroute some supplies of gas. And this amount of work presents us the advantage of being ready and able to face a crisis on the energy side.

What I want to stress is that in the face of the Russian military threat, we believe that a diplomatic way out of the crisis that Russia has caused is still possible. And it is our top priority and that is what we are investing all of our efforts in.

Let me stress that. We still believe that the diplomatic way out of the crisis is possible. But in parallel, we have accelerated the work on restrictive measures – that is what the Treaty calls what we use as “sanctions”, the word “sanctions” is not in the Treaty, it is just restrictive measures - including sectoral, financial and individual sanctions that would be adopted in close coordination with like-minded countries in Europe and across the Atlantic in case of a military aggression. Be sure of that.

And be also sure that even if Moscow has been deliberatively bypassing Europe on security discussions, because President Putin profoundly disagreed with the values that we, the European Union practise and defence – and this is the real problem, they disagree with our values, with our way of living, with the European way of living, with what we represent, a combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion. And this is at the beginning of the crisis why we have been expressing our principal positions about the main parameters that have defined the European security architecture for the last 30 years from now.

But we have to think about what Russia is looking for. Qu’est-ce qu’elle veut la Russie ? What does Russia want while creating this crisis? And I think that they have several objectives. The first one is to return at the heart of the world game. To be recognised as an equal player with the United States, at a time when the Unites States is turning towards Asia. To be again reconsidered as a global player. And I have to say that from this point of view Putin has got some success. Now everybody is talking with him. It has played in the centre of the political game.

The second purpose, linked to the first, is also intended to test the possibility of a decoupling between the United States and Europe, particularly after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. And in this respect, they should be quite disappointed because our unity has been increased, not weakened.

And finally, he seeks to reconstitute the former Soviet sphere by raising the fears about NATO enlargement. And that is true. But the question of NATO enlargement plays an important role in the Russian psychology in this relation to the West. But to try to reduce everything in this crisis to the question of the NATO enlargement, or to think that once a possible guarantee of Ukraine's membership or non-membership to NATO could be obtained, to believe that this would solve everything and we will go back to normal, it is illusory. Simply because when you look at what is happening in Belarus, which no one has ever said that Belarus could join the European Union or NATO, we are witnessing a real Russian stronghold in the country since [President Alexander] Lukashenko was in trouble and playing for his survival at the price of integration, and even absorption into a greater Russia.

No. Do not reduce that to the NATO expansion. The big problem is the fight between two different political and economic systems. What we represent, our values and their values. Our way of living and their way of living. This is the real fight. It is not a fight between armies, it is a fight about ideas, which sometimes is much more important. Until now nothing is played, nothing is won, but we have to keep vigilant. What we must avoid basically is a re-edition of the Crimea scheme, where we were quite surprised by the invasion, reacted with sanctions, but nothing more [happened]. Now we must show that any invasion of Ukraine is, in any form it takes – be it the annexing of Donbass, or an isolated military incursion into the rest of Ukraine – would be prohibitively expensive for Russia and for its oligarchs. For the package of sanctions that we have already ready, that we are ready to implement. It has to be strong and credible. But, at the same time, we must not close the door to a discussion, even when discussing we must apply the rules of social distancing.

We must, therefore, combine firmness and determination with a willingness to engage in a dialogue as soon as Russia agrees to play the game of negotiation and to move away from the logic of ultimatum and military intimidation that has been practicing for several months now.

Mr Lavrov has just declared that he is ready to continue discussions. So let us do it, let us discuss seriously, but without lowering our guard.

I hope this debate would have marked this path.

Thank you.

Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)460 75 45 53
Paloma Hall Caballero
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)2 296 85 60
+32 (0)460 76 85 60