Tensions with Russia eclipse summit with countries of the former Soviet Union – POLITICO
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday urged EU leaders to impose preemptive sanctions on Russia to deter any potential military attack rather than wait to punish Moscow until it takes hostile action.
But legally, it was far from clear that the EU could accede to Zelenskiy’s request, as sanctions generally have to be imposed on specific persons or entities in response to specific events, and there is a heavy burden on the law. proof to ensure that the measurements will be valid. in class.
Zelenskiy made his plea during a visit to Brussels to attend a summit of leaders of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program, an effort to raise awareness among countries that were once republics of the Soviet Union. His request came amid a large mobilization of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border and threats from the EU, US and other Western countries to impose heavy economic measures on Moscow if it undertakes a “military escalation”.
“Our state is interested in a policy of strong sanctions against a probable escalation,” Zelenskiy said at a press conference. “And then I think there may or may not be an escalation likely.”
In the end, the whole episode may have served only to prove that in its long and growing struggle with Russia, Kiev finds support for the West insufficient to protect it from its much larger neighbor. tall and menacing.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel reaffirmed the EU’s readiness to hold Russia accountable in the event of another attack, but did not react positively to the Ukrainian President’s request.
Ukraine has faced a constant threat since 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and then helped stoke an armed separatist insurgency in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Russia served as financial and military support for the separatist war, although the Kremlin has often denied any formal role in the situation.
“For us, it is important that such sanctions are applied before rather than after the conflict,” Zelenskiy said, adding: “We have had war for eight years. We understand that it is only if the sanctions are applied before the date of the armed conflict that they could become the preventive mechanisms of a possible escalation. “
“Great concern” for Moscow
The Eastern Partnership program aims to enhance the EU’s relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Belarus has dropped the program due to deteriorating relations with the EU, which has strongly supported pro-democracy protesters in their efforts against dictator Alexander Lukashenko and his demands for victory in a widely contested presidential election in August 2020.
Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš told reporters at the summit that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely felt his authoritarian regime threatened by the Eastern Partnership initiative.
“This idea of democracy is taking hold more and more in the Eastern Partnership – it is of great concern to the Kremlin,” Kariņš said. “Why? Because it can also spread to Russia itself.
The EU has identified the Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine trio as being on a faster path to close collaboration with the EU, although potential bloc membership is still seen as a long way off.
But with the threat of an invasion of Ukraine at the top of the list, Putin managed to dominate the conversation during an event designed to draw the five western countries to Brussels, and away from the Russian autocracy.
Even after the summit leaders adopted their formal conclusions, a heated discussion continued on the security situation along the Ukrainian border, according to officials briefed on the meeting.
The new German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron each met individually with Zelenskiy as well as all together as a group. France and Germany are co-sponsors of talks between Ukraine and Russia in the so-called Normandy format, which aims to implement the Minsk 2 peace accords and end the war in Donbass.
The Normandy process failed to bring peace and many officials and diplomats believe he is indeed dead, with neither Ukraine nor Russia being particularly interested in fulfilling their obligations under what is generally considered a defective treaty.
Nonetheless, Macron and Scholz have each come out in favor of relaunching the Normandy talks, echoing recent statements by US President Joe Biden, who insisted it was the best chance for peace.
Zelenskiy, at his press conference, said Ukraine is ready to speak with Russia at any time, in any format, and he said he would welcome a stronger and more central role for the United States, even though Washington has not expressed interest in officially joining Normandy. group. If the expansion of Normandy was infeasible, Zelenskiy suggested the possibility of a new “parallel track” of negotiations involving the United States.
The Ukrainian leader said he does not feel any pressure from Washington regarding the implementation of the Minsk accords, which he says is impossible to do unless Russia first fulfills a series of ‘obligations, including the withdrawal of arms and foreign fighters from Donetsk and Luhansk, and the return of border control to the Ukrainian government.
Zelenskiy, who was a comedian and professional actor before he was elected, joked that he felt an echo in questions about the pressure, a reference to his entanglement in former US President Donald’s first impeachment scandal. Trump and accusations that Trump tried to get him to investigate. Biden’s son, Hunter, by refusing military aid.
“As for the pressure from the United States, I haven’t felt it,” he said. “When President Trump was there, I was asked if I felt pressured. Now there is another president, and again the same question on the pressure. I didn’t feel any pressure. If there will be – I will certainly say so, because it is very dangerous to live with the pressure. The pressure must be lowered. “
In comments to reporters, Kariņš and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki each expressed their opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany, bypassing Ukraine. Critics of the Kremlin have called for blocking the start of operations of the new pipeline as punishment for Russia’s malicious activities in Ukraine and elsewhere abroad.
Nord Stream 2 “is already a blackmail tool … to help President Putin dictate gas prices across Europe,” Morawiecki said, adding: “We were right to raise the red flag.”
An example of “progress”
As part of the turmoil around the summit, Michel organized a five-hour meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whose countries have been at war for three decades in the disputed Haut-Haut. Karabakh, until a brief war last year in which Azerbaijan emerged with a decisive victory.
In a statement, Aliyev “underlined the constructive atmosphere between Armenia and Azerbaijan” at the summit, thanked the EU and urged countries “not to miss this opportunity and to continue their efforts to ensure a lasting peace in the region “.
The thaw in relations between longtime enemies in the Caucasus offered a rare bright spot in the otherwise tense talks over Ukraine and Russia, and leaders took note.
“I see enormous progress made in bilateral relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda told reporters. “I would say that probably this Eastern Partnership summit encouraged these two countries to do more to come together.”