The troubled neighborhood relationship between the EU and Russia remains in a critical situation. And no one rules out today that its deterioration is going to further. Three significant open fronts prevent in recent weeks even caress that “stable” bond that the Twenty-seven maintain as a basic objective, but that the Kremlin systematically ignores them.
The state of the opposition leader Alexei Navalni, the harassment of Ukraine and, in the last hours, the clash between Moscow and the Czech Government with the cascade of expulsions of diplomats in both directions, mark a rarefied status quo that this Monday the Foreign Ministers of the Twenty-seven analyzed in a summit that should have been held in Luxembourg, but which again had a telematic format due to the restrictions of the pandemic.
“We do not renounce the five guiding principles that should mark the relationship with Russia. We look for ways to understanding and no sanctions, but if there are actions that must be responded to with this mechanism, it will be done, “said the Spanish Minister, Arancha González-Laya, almost at the same time that Josep Borrell denounced the deployment of 150,000 Russian Army troops on the border with Ukraine. Without precedents. Even higher than the one that ended with the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and which opened the deepest wound in the bilateral relationship. “The risk of further escalation is more than evident”, “the situation is disturbing” or “we are not safe from having an incident (in the area)”, were the warning messages added by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and EU Security Policy.
The five guiding principles referred to by González-Laya continue to be violated from the first: the application of the Minsk agreements on the conflict in eastern Ukraine “as a basic condition for any substantial change in the Union’s position vis-à-vis the Russia”. The rest of the ‘orientations’ are the consolidation of relations with the eastern partners and other neighbors; strengthening the resilience of the EU in aspects such as energy security, hybrid threats or strategic communication; the search for compromises with Russia on matters of interest to the Union; and the need to establish people-to-people contacts and support Russian civil society.
Ukraine worries. And each time more. The European ministers listened yesterday for an hour to their counterpart from the eastern country, Dmytro Kuleba. Last week several European leaders, in addition to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, maintained direct contacts with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Russia argues that the movement responds to simple maneuvers, but Kiev perceives it as a new attack attempt. And the EU closes ranks with the eastern country while warning that the red line is “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of Ukraine. Any Moscow action that tries to cross it will find an “unequivocal and firm” response from the Twenty-seven. But not now. At the moment a ceasefire is being called for and absolute transparency on the meaning and meaning of the military deployment. If we have to go further, it will be seen at the next European Foreign Ministers Council, scheduled for May.
“We do not want a conflict with the Russian neighbor and we will do our best to avoid it, but we will be firm with the red lines.” Ultimately, new sanctions against Russian officials that would be added to those already in force are not ruled out. 177 people and 48 entities have today immobilized their assets and they cannot travel through the community territory. They are identified as responsible or participants in actions that undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.
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