“Unity remains our strength”

“Unity remains our strength”

Josep Borrell
This week our work on the European security situation and Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine continued, with EU Foreign Ministers meeting and the US and NATO sending their written responses to Russia’s “draft Treaties”. We will stick to our twin tracks of diplomacy and deterrence and expand our support to Ukraine in all areas.
Since my last blog post on Ukraine and European security, a lot has happened. Russia’s military build-up at the Ukrainian border has increased further and now also includes preparations for military drills in Belarus, to be conducted only 18 km from the Ukrainian border. Moscow has also announced naval drills involving all its fleets around the world and military exercises inside Russia.
On our side, EU Foreign ministers met last Monday to discuss the situation and decide next steps. The most important take-away from our meeting is that we have reaffirmed our unity opposing Russia’s attempt to re-create dividing lines on our continent. These bring back memories of ‘spheres of influence’, which do not belong to the 21st century. We cannot and will not accept it. In the face of these challenges, our unity is our principal strength: everybody understands that in the EU.
The diplomatic surge
During our meeting, we also had a substantive exchange with US Secretary of States Blinken. Transatlantic unity is key and we will continue our close coordination and cooperation, as we have been doing so far during this whole process.
I sometimes read in newspapers that the European Union is supposedly absent from the diplomatic process on the Russia/Ukraine conflict. This is not the case: we are fully part of the wider, multi-layered set of diplomatic discussions. The United States and the European Union have been coordinating, informing each other and discussing the next steps to take. Having been asked by the Council to continue coordinating the EU’s position and actively engage with our partners, I have had regular calls with the United States Secretary of State, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and the NATO Secretary General on these issues. I have been also in close contact with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, with whom I visited the line of contact at the beginning of the month. In view of the discussions in the Normandy format (France, Germany, Ukraine, Russia) I am in close touch with my French and German colleagues. These Normandy talks started again on Wednesday in Paris for the first time since 2019 and are set to continue in Berlin in the coming weeks.
In the framework of this close transatlantic coordination, the US and NATO sent their respective written responses on Wednesday to the Russian demands published last December. The responses themselves are not public, but Secretary Blinken and other US officials have made clear in public(link is external) that the response reiterates the concerns about Russia’s actions that undermine European security; it contains a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised; and proposals for areas where it may be possible to find common ground.
As Secretary Blinken said: “We make clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend – including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances. We’ve addressed the possibility of reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture in Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and manoeuvres in Europe.”
I welcome the US and NATO proposals: they have the potential – if negotiated in good faith – to enhance security in Europe, while also addressing Russia’s stated concerns through reciprocal commitments. These answers underline again that the US, NATO and the EU prefer diplomacy and are prepared to move forward, if Russia de-escalates its aggression toward Ukraine and approaches discussions about security in Europe in a balanced and reciprocal way.
Greater EU support to Ukraine
In parallel, the EU has decided to increase its financial assistance to Ukraine significantly. After having already allocated over €17 billion since 2014, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced last Monday a new financial assistance package of both emergency loans and grants. It will include a new emergency macro-financial assistance package of €1.2 billion, to address Ukraine’s current financing needs. The European Parliament and Council should adopt this package as soon as possible.
On the security and defence side, we decided last month to use the European Peace Facility to increase the resilience capacity of the Ukrainian army. Right now, we are intensifying our work on how best to expand our support to Ukraine on the reform of its higher military education. I hope that member states can soon agree on these modalities, so that work can start.
Countering the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns
Meanwhile, Kremlin disinformation around Ukraine is also intensifying, aimed at creating a very misleading impression of a besieged Russia, encircled by NATO and the West, who are cynically pushing Ukraine into conflict with Russia. In pro-Kremlin narratives, Kyiv is portrayed as a puppet, directed by war-mongering Western countries and preparing a provocation to start military operation to reclaim its own territory.
Besides being fundamentally wrong, such narratives increase tensions, aim at creating uncertainty and confusion in the public and at generating dangerous pretexts for escalating actions. As part of our fight against disinformation campaigns emanating from pro-Kremlin outlets, our experts have identified and debunked more than 5,000 cases targeting Ukraine(link is external). We have dissected the seven most prevalent and dangerous myths about Ukraine(link is external).
We work closely with Ukrainian authorities and civil society to deliver technical and financial support to help them combat foreign information manipulation and interference. The recently established Ukrainian Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security(link is external) has already delivered good results in its first months of operation and will grow further. Ukraine can continue to count on the EU in this field.
The cyber security front
The coercive actions against Ukraine have coincided with a cyber-attack. This month, a number of Ukrainian government websites and service platforms were defaced with deceptive messaging, and worse, destructive elements were found on some of the government IT systems and elsewhere in society.
Cyber-attacks are rarely used just to cause harm to technical systems. They are also aimed at triggering psychological effects, trying to delegitimize Ukrainian authorities and spreading distrust and fear among the general population.
Thankfully, Ukrainian authorities have reacted promptly and remedied the situation. This was a good example of the resilience of Ukrainian society against the pressures they are facing. The EU actively supports Ukraine in tackling cyber threats. In addition to the EU-Ukraine Cyber Dialogue, we have established strong cooperation, enabling us to assist Ukraine to increase its defences against cyber threats and attacks.
A war of nerves
Russia is waging a war of nerves – so we have to keep ours. In this stand-off with Russia, we are doing our best to make diplomacy work, using all possible paths. In this context, I deplore the decision by Russian authorities, announced on Friday, to ban an unknown number of representatives of EU Member States and institutions from entry into Russia. This decision lacks any legal justification and transparency and will meet an appropriate response. With it, Russia continues to fuel a climate of tensions in Europe instead of contributing to de-escalation.
We have to be prepared in case diplomacy fails. We are looking at all options and scenarios, including working with partners, like the US, Qatar and Azerbaijan, on the issue of gas supply in case Russia decides to reduce or halt deliveries.
As part of our work on deterrence, we have advanced with the preparations of a high-impact response that would inflict severe costs on the Russian economy and financial system. Here we are also considering export controls measures that would have a longer-term effect, by denying Russia products that it needs to fulfil its strategic ambitions.
As I said during my visit to Ukraine in early January, the European Union will not waver from its support to Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity and its right of self-determination.
Ukraine is our partner and neighbour: its security is also our security.
Written by EU High Representative Josep Borrell.

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