EU warns Russia of ‘robust’ response as Ukraine crisis deepens

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Brest (France) (AFP) – EU foreign ministers on Friday warned Russia of a “vigorous” response, fearing that a cyber attack on Ukraine could set the stage for military action by Moscow against its neighbour.

Even before Friday’s assault on major Ukrainian government websites, European ministers had warned that cyberattacks could precede or accompany a military incursion Russia may plan as it masses 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border.

The standoff with Russia “is serious, more serious than anything we have seen in recent years,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters at a meeting of the bloc’s top diplomats in the French city. from Brest.

“Some say the cyberattack could be the prelude to other activities, military activities,” he said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said: ‘This is exactly the kind of thing we have warned about and are afraid of.’

“If there are attacks against Ukraine, we will be very tough and very strong and robust in our response,” Linde said.

Another European foreign minister, asking not to be identified in order to speak more freely, told AFP: “Our conviction is that there is a risk of Russian intervention in Ukraine and we must be ready to react”.

When Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea in 2014, “it took us weeks to agree on our response, it can’t happen again,” the minister said.

Avoid escalation

The EU was mobilizing in the meantime to help Ukraine deal with the cyberattack, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Borrell said the EU’s political and security committee would meet later on Friday for an urgent meeting on the attack and that the EU’s rapid response cyber unit was also being activated.

“We are mobilizing all our resources to help Ukraine deal with this type of cyberattack,” Borrell said.

The ministers left little doubt that they suspected Russia was behind the cyberattack. “You can imagine who did this,” Borrell said, acknowledging that “we don’t have proof.”

The ministers said sanctions against Russia were among the options on the table to persuade President Vladimir Putin that invading Ukraine would have serious consequences for Moscow.

“You need strong nerves,” said German Baerbock Fred TANNEAUAFP

“Our goal is to deter Russia,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

“We have a common will to act,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said there was still room for diplomacy with Russia.

“Especially in times of crisis, diplomacy requires a lot of stamina, patience and strong nerves,” she told reporters.

Baerbock, who is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday, added: “We are doing everything to avoid any further escalation.”

She said the trip was part of efforts “to use all possible channels of communication”.

The US Ambassador to NATO hailed the EU mobilization for Ukraine, saying it was a valuable addition to the defense alliance’s capabilities.

“There is a real capacity being built in Brussels, within the European Union, to partner with NATO’s depth of knowledge, expertise and toolbox,” said Julianne Smith to reporters in Brussels.

Christi C. Elwood