Ukraine: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell in the UN on the latest escalation by Russia

New York
EEAS Press Team

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Good afternoon. 

What President Putin announced today constitutes another major escalation in the unprovoked war that he has launched against Ukraine. 

It looks like he is speaking in a measure of panic and desperation. Putin is doubling down a failing strategy.  

By the threat of using nuclear, he is trying to intimidate Ukraine and all countries that support Ukraine. But he will fail. He has failed and he will fail again. 

Unfortunately, this latest escalation is in line with the approach taken by the Russian regime until now.  

Putin’s threat to use “all weapon resources at our disposal” - this was his sentence – implies the possibility of using weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. And such a threat is unacceptable.  

Threatening with nuclear weapons is a real danger to the whole world. The international community has to react in front of this threat.

Doing it on the International Peace Day is even more cynical. Maybe it is a coincidence, but it is particularly shocking to hear such threats during the United Nations General Assembly when the world community unites to work on peace and progress. 

Russia’s Putin is demonstrating again that it completely disregards the international norms, rules and principles. Rules, principles and norms that we have all signed [up to] - Russia also - as members of the United Nations. And these rules and principles start with territorial integrity.  

The intention to annex territories occupied by force since February 2022 and to hold sham referenda will not change their legal status. They are and they will remain internationally recognised as an integral part of Ukraine. And this is not going to change by holding sham referendum. 

Now it is clear that Russia wants to destroy Ukraine by all means, violating international law and the United Nations Charter since the beginning. But now it looks like Russia’s Putin wants to destroy Ukraine. The international community gathered here in New York needs to take the full measure of what is at stake.  

The [United Nations] Security Council will meet and discuss about Ukraine tomorrow in [the light of] this new scenario. I will speak on behalf of the European Union to the Security Council. I will have the great honour and responsibility of addressing the Security Council on behalf of the European Union at that critical moment. 

And tonight, immediately after hearing about the words of Mr Putin, I am convening an extraordinary and ad-hoc informal meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Ministers with the purpose to agree on a common line. And the common line – I am sure – could be summarised saying that we will not be intimidated and we will continue our full support for Ukrainian sovereignty and democracy, and continue working for this war to stop as soon as possible – before going into bigger challenges, before facing bigger threats, and before the international community has to react to such threats. 

Thank you. 



Q. What do you expect from the [Foreign Affairs Council] meeting tonight? And how seriously does the EU take the nuclear threats from Putin? What in concrete [terms] will their response be? 

You know that we already had the usual [informal] Foreign Affairs Council meeting that we always have when we are here in New York. We held it on Monday. Now, I have to convene another one because I think that the [EU Foreign Affairs] Ministers have to discuss about these threats, to reiterate the continued support to Ukraine and to alert the international community about the unacceptable situation in which Putin is putting all of us. The Ministers will discuss, and I can anticipate that they will discuss about how to continue our military support to Ukraine, how to continue putting pressure on Russia. The issue of sanctions will for sure be on the table. We have already said that in case of holding this kind of referenda, in case of annexation, new sanctions will come. So, I will start proposing what to do with sanctions. And we will reinforce our outreach to all the states in the world in order to share with them our strong concern about this situation. 


Q. Comentaba usted de la amenaza nuclear del Presidente ruso: ¿Qué tipo de respuestas va a preparar específicamente a esto en la Unión Europea? Y hablaba usted del incremento de las sanciones: ¿Qué tipo de medidas va a plantear usted a los ministros cuando se reúnan esta noche?  

How can I summarise? On the previous question, you know that the nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhia is in a dire situation. The risk of a nuclear accident - let's call it “accident” - in Zaporizhzhia is very high. And not only very high because the bombs are falling in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear [power] station – Can you imagine, a nuclear [power] station? The biggest nuclear station in Europe being bombed around it. 

El riesgo de un accidente nuclear - vamos a llamarle “accidente” - no es despreciable. La mayor central nuclear de Europa está siendo bombardeada en su perímetro inmediato. Y la Agencia Internacional de la Energía [Atómica] nos dice que está funcionando en unas condiciones de precariedad alarmantes. Nadie tendría la caldera de gas de su calefacción en casa funcionando en condiciones de precariedad alarmante, ¿verdad? Porque sería consciente de que corre un cierto riesgo y repararía esa caldera. Bueno, pues la mayor central nuclear de Europa está - nos dicen - trabajando en condiciones de precariedad. El riesgo de un accidente nuclear no es despreciable - es lo que nos dice la Agencia Internacional de la Energía Atómica. No hay que ser alarmistas, pero hay que ser consciente de los riesgos. Y ahora nos dice Putin que está dispuesto a utilizar todas las armas a su alcance. Y cuando alguien dice eso es porque en "todas" incluye las armas nucleares. Es una enorme irresponsabilidad y algo completamente inaceptable para la comunidad internacional. Hoy los ministros van a discutir la reacción europea que no le puedo anticipar porque mis colegas no estarían muy satisfechos. Tendré que explicárselo después, pero ciertamente vamos a insistir en las medidas que hemos tomado de apoyo militar, de presión económica con sanciones sobre Rusia y de acción diplomática internacional. 

I was saying that the biggest power station in Europe is working in precarious conditions. And nobody would have a boiler, a heating boiler system in their house, working in precarious conditions. They would be aware of the risk. We do not have to be alarmist, but we have to be aware of the risk. And that is what the International Atomic Energy Agency is telling us: “You have to take measures in order to create a perimeter of securisation of the [nuclear power] central. So a nuclear accident – let's call it “accident” - may happen. But what Putin says is that he is ready to use all weapons at his disposal. When someone says “all”, implicitly it means also the nuclear weapons. And this is an extraordinary grave irresponsibility and something that the international community cannot accept. And we, Europeans, will discuss how to reach out [to other countries], how the United Nations themselves this week have to react. I cannot tell you what are the measures that I will propose, because certainly I have to do it first to my colleagues. But we will continue doing more of the same. More of the same means: military support, economic pressure on Russia and diplomatic outreach to the rest of the world. 


Q. Both President [Joe] Biden and President [Emmanuel] Macron emphasized the need for unity at the UN – at 193 countries and well, maybe not at the [UN Security Council] - and to focus on countries that believe they are not aligned or abstained. What can be done – what have you done – to achieve some kind of unity so that the world is sending the same message that you are? 

The situation requires a high-level diplomatic involvement. And we have to do a kind of political pedagogy in order to explain what are the causes of the war and what are the consequences of the war. People agree on rejecting the causes, and nobody – almost nobody – is supporting an aggression like the one that Russia has perpetrated against Ukraine. But when it comes to the consequences, certainly people are much more worried about the consequences than the causes, because the consequences – they suffer, we suffer, the whole world is suffering. Ukraine is being bombed by missiles and the rest of the world is being bombed by high prices of electricity, fuel and food - which creates inflation, which makes the Central Banks reacting, raising interest rates, which creates financial trouble with slow growth, which creates unemployment. This is a vicious circle. The whole world is paying the consequences of this war – this war, not the sanctions. Yesterday, we had to issue a new statement from the European Union in order to insist on what I have been saying since the beginning: our sanctions do not target food or fertilisers. The trade of food and fertilisers is free. And we clarified once again to all economic actors, insurance providers, providers of services, of transportation, that they can be involved in exports of food and fertilisers from Russia to the whole world. Look, we, Europeans, are buying fertilisers from Russia so how could we be preventing third countries also from buying fertilisers if we do [it]? So [there is] no problem with that, it is clear. It is not the sanctions, it is the war itself. And we have to engage in a battle of narratives which is not going to be won overnight. It will require a stubborn, continuous and clever outreach to our colleagues and partners around the world. 


Q. Sergei Lavrov [Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia] is in town this week. Are you planning to meet with him? Is that something that might be discussed at your meeting this evening? And do you think that meeting with him could achieve anything? 

To tell you the truth, no. No, I am not planning to meet Sergei Lavrov. 


Q. I was in Ukraine for 40 days so I did experience the war from the beginning, and European nations are delivering arms and all they can [in terms of] equipment for the Ukrainian army. Let’s say Putin acts on his threat: is it enough just to provide arms? Do you think that European nations will bring soldiers and put feet  [on the ground]. My second question is about the nuclear deal. We see an escalation between [President Ebrahim] Raisi and [President Joe] Biden, do you think that it will lead the deal [to be] turned down or it is just a political way of lifting the ceiling? 

Let’s be clear about that. Since the beginning, we have said that we are not belligerent, that we are not engaged in the war. One thing is to provide military support, and another thing is to engage in the war directly. It is not the case, and it will not be the case. We are not participating in the war. We are not belligerent. We are just supporting Ukraine. 


Q. You just said that you are not engaged in the war, that you are providing military equipment. With Putin calling up 300,000 new troops, how do you think the EU should response to that? Because it is certainly going to provoke new requests from Ukraine for equipment. And if the Russians do take any kind of nuclear action, can they expect a response from the EU that would be perhaps demanding engagement? 

Allow me not to engage in a chain of “if (…), if (…), if (…)”. I am dealing with the real circumstances of the war, the way it is now. And the way it is now, we are not going to engage directly. We will support Ukraine which is - by the way - quite an important effort. The recipe is more of the same. More of the same: military support, economic and individual sanctions and diplomatic outreach to the rest of the world. 


Q. You said the recipe is “More of the same”. Isn’t Vladimir Putin counting on you and the EU to do more of the same? What will more of the same do to a President who has just called up hundreds of thousands of new troops? What will more of the same achieve? 

You know, one thing is to call, and another thing is to have. I can call a lot of things. You can call 300,000 soldiers; you will not have them tomorrow on the frontline. 


Q. Do you not have to do something different? Take a new approach? 

We will continue supporting Ukraine with the military support that we can provide. I cannot say anything more. 


Link to the video:

Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)460 75 45 53