Left out of Ukraine crisis, EU pushes for talks in Moscow, Europe News & Top Stories

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU leaders insisted on retaining their role as mediators in the Ukraine-Russia crisis on Wednesday (December 15th), with the Kremlin making it clear that it preferred to speak directly with Washington.

The EU summit with its Eastern Partnership – Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – took place on the same day that Russia addressed a series of security demands to Washington.

Western capitals have sounded the alarm over a buildup of Russian troops around Ukraine, and EU leaders have taken a stern tone, warning of sanctions with “strategic consequences” in the event attack from Moscow.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who accused Germany of blocking arms deliveries and leaving Ukraine exposed, said he would prefer sanctions imposed immediately, before Russia acts.

“Some leaders are proposing a format to respond to possible escalation after possible escalation,” Zelensky said, after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“To be honest, no one is particularly interested in the sanctions policy after this. Our state is interested in a strong sanctions policy before any escalation,” he said.

‘Brain death’

EU capitals are keen to show solidarity with Kiev, but some fear that immediate strong actions – like blocking the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany – could provoke rather than deter Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, meanwhile, was not waiting to see whether Wednesday’s talks in Brussels produced a stronger European position – it has already made its demands known to the United States.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov presented US Deputy Secretary of State Karen Donfried with a list of security demands – implicit conditions for withdrawing troops.

This implicitly dismisses France and Germany, the guardians of the so-called “Norman process”, a four-way peace dialogue between Paris, Berlin, Kiev and Moscow.

Meeting attendees expressed support to Norman Co-Chair France for the “process and the progress made,” an EU official told reporters as talks continued.

But, privately, a minister told AFP that “Normandy is brain dead” and that Putin would seek to deal with the United States only on questions of European security.

The EU minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, said US President Joe Biden had pledged to open a dialogue with Putin and “we have to see what that leads to.”

And Zelensky said he was “happy that the United States wants to play this or that role today.” I would like them to play one of the main roles, not episodic ”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, Belgium. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the situation proved he was right, despite German resistance, to call for the abandonment of Nord Stream 2.

“Nord Stream 2 was a major mistake, because it is already becoming, it is already a blackmail tool, to help President Putin dictate gas prices across Europe,” he said.

Morawiecki suggested that Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel last week at the helm of Germany, was aware that Nord Stream could be a powerful lever to threaten Russia.

But it is not clear whether the pipeline is part of the threatened sanctions package.

“We view the security situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border with great concern,” Scholz said before leaving for Brussels, in his first speech to parliament since taking office.

“Any violation of territorial integrity will come at a price, a high price,” he warned.

Brussels sees the Eastern Partnership as an opportunity to help stabilize the East and counter Russian influence. But diplomats in Brussels expected a frustrating meeting.

The group has already lost Belarus, which broke up in June after criticism from European capitals over the contested re-election of leader Alexander Lukashenko in 2020.

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – all of which have Russian troops deployed in areas of their soil – would like to join the European Union, seeing it as a guarantor of peace and prosperity.

Spheres of influence

Every step of the long membership process requires the unanimous support of existing member states, and long-standing candidates in the Western Balkans already face an uncertain wait.

“Some member states are pushing to accept Georgia and Ukraine into the EU, but others say it is not possible,” the minister told AFP, speaking under the guise of the ‘anonymity.

Putin wants to maintain Russian influence over the former Soviet republics now bordering Turkey and EU members – and thwart any hope of them joining the EU or NATO.

Europeans publicly reject the idea of ​​a Russian veto or sphere of influence, insisting that Eastern countries are free to choose their own strategic alignments.

But privately, several senior European diplomats and government officials admit that no one in Brussels can consider Ukraine or Georgia joining the EU.

Christi C. Elwood