Friday, May 24, 2024
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HomeOpinionCommentaryEU - Russia relations

EU – Russia relations

– President Charles Michel at the European Parliament debate on EU-Russia relations

By President Charles Michel

This is expected to be an important geopolitical week for the European Union.

We will hold our joint summit with the African Union. Some eighty delegations and leaders of African and European governments are arriving in Brussels to negotiate a strategic partnership between our two continents. Yet, the extremely serious situation in Eastern Europe has crept into all our agendas.

Allow me to layout the range of actions taken by the European Union to deal with this crisis, in very close coordination with our allies. Let me explain, too, how the European Council will approach our future decisions, in the short or longer term.

Russia has undertaken an unprecedented military escalation against Ukraine. The Russian authorities have repeatedly said they have no aggressive intentions towards this sovereign country. And this despite already annexing part of Ukrainian territory, Crimea, in 2014 and constantly undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, especially in eastern Ukraine.

Encircling a country with an extraordinary deployment of military forces – never seen before – can only be seen as aggressive and threatening behavior. This escalation not only endangers the stability and integrity of Ukraine. It also threatens peace and security in Europe, and the rules-based international system.

We, the EU, Member States and our NATO allies are working together at every level, on a daily basis, consulting politically and acting together. We are working at a level of intensity and quality that we have not seen for years. Our unity is stronger than ever.

We have adopted a strong, clear, and united strategy, in three areas:

First, diplomacy. We have chosen to give every opportunity to the diplomatic route. European and American leaders have undertaken a large number of diplomatic initiatives and missions. We have activated negotiating platforms for dialogue with Russia, such as NATO, the OSCE, or the Normandy format. I would like to commend Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron on their role in this regard.

We have never stopped giving priority to diplomatic channels. Even when these efforts did not seem to produce immediate and tangible results. In the last two days, Russia has signaled that it may be open to diplomacy. We urge Russia to take immediate and tangible steps towards de-escalation, because this is the condition for sincere political dialogue. We cannot forever attempt diplomacy, while the other side is amassing troops.

In addition to this diplomatic engagement, we are working on the second subject, which is the preparation of sanctions and restrictive measures in case they should be necessary. The European Council, in December, had the clear opportunity to set the political framework of the 27 heads of state and government. We consider that if there were to be a military aggression against Ukraine, the cost for Russia would have to be severe. The consequences should be massive. But we must also be frank with each other: this means that the consequences for us Europeans would also be heavy; and when the time comes, if necessary, we should be ready to take on this responsibility.

I thank you for the preparatory work carried out by the High Representative and by the Commission; the European Council and the Member States, if necessary and when the time comes, will have the opportunity to come to a conclusion and to take political decisions on this subject, and this, in close cooperation and in close coordination with the whole our partners and allies.

Finally, there is a third point which seems essential to me. This is the point that directly affects support for Ukraine, support for the Ukrainian people. Of course, this support must be, as it has long been, political. We affirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and we repeat this; and we recognize this European aspiration, this Euro-Atlantic aspiration of Ukraine as well. This support is also financial because the circumstances, we can measure it, are already causing significant daily damage to the Ukrainian economic system. And we welcome the rapid decision announced by the Commission: 1.2 billion mobilized in the field of macro-financial aid. I think we’re going to have to go beyond that, with the all of our allies and partners. This is

why I want to launch here this proposal for an initiative to set up, in close cooperation with Ukraine and the European Union, a conference of donors in order to support the economic robustness of Ukraine, for which this threat has been undertaken, and also to support the reform agenda, which is so important for this country.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end these few words with two messages. The first solemn message I want to address to the Ukrainian people. In 2014, the Ukrainian people, proud and free, in Maidan, whose sacrifices accompanied the moment of this history – their history and our history – made the choice of freedom, made the choice of liberal democracy, opts for the rule of law. The European Union, since then, has continued to support and accompany this free and sovereign choice of the Ukrainian people. I want to state with solemnity that the European Union will remain on the side of Ukraine. The European Union will not let the Ukrainian people down.

The second message, I would like to address to Russia and its leaders. The choice today is between war and the tragic sacrifices that accompany it, or the courage of political commitment, the courage of diplomatic negotiation. Very clearly, the European Union is for the choice of diplomacy and for the choice of negotiation. We will be able to demonstrate this courage. We will also be able to show the firmness that would be necessary if another choice had to be made. I think that this courage of negotiation to guarantee lasting solutions in order to guarantee mutual stability and security is the choice we owe to the peoples of Europe. This is the choice that the Russian leadership owes to the Russian people.

In a few hours, the 27 European leaders will be meeting in Brussels for this summit with Africa. I have no doubt that we will have the opportunity to express the firmness, unity and strength of Europe to uphold our values ​​and to remain alongside the Ukrainian people.

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