The EU is not yet going to react to Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has said that EU Foreign Ministers found the Russian military mobilisation “very concerning,” but they are not considering the possibility of imposing new sanctions against the Kremlin, the online newspaper Politico reports.
According to the report, EU countries are not even planning to follow the Czech Republic in expelling Russian diplomats for a 2014 explosion at a weapons depot that Prague has concluded was the work of Russian special services.
“Let’s hope that this deployment will stop,” Borrell added, noting that leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Joe Biden had called on the Kremlin to stand down.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas echoed the point, telling reporters: “Moscow should switch from provocation to cooperation. We believe that the conflict can still be resolved by diplomatic means.”
Politico notes that so far the German and French-led Normandy format of peace negotiations has failed to yield any breakthrough in the now more than seven-year-long conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The journalists also reminded that EU countries and other allies had acted in concert to expel dozens of Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK over the 2018 poisoning in Salisbury, England, of Sergey Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer. This time, however, Borrell said this would not happen, because there “has not been such a request,” nor has there been a “move on the field on more sanctions to Russia.”
“The EU’s expressions of concern, and its overall inaction, highlight the predicament Brussels faces with regard to Russian military aggression – with member countries acknowledging that virtually nothing will be done unless President Vladimir Putin orders an invasion,” the article reads.
And even then, it’s not clear how far EU and NATO countries would be willing to go to defend Ukraine.
“My call to the EU is that we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss about what happens if Russia crosses the red line, or at least once again crosses the red line,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.
Landsbergis, in an interview with Politico, offered a broader red-line interpretation that includes situations where Moscow is simply refusing to de-escalate the situation. In addition, he urged a renewed discussion of additional sanctions, including “sectoral sanctions” that would target swathes of the Russian economy rather than individuals, which has been the EU’s approach of late.
Moreover, during his news conference, Borrell said 150,000 Russian troops had massed on the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea – a far higher number than Ukraine or other countries have alleged during the build-up of recent weeks. His office later clarified the number was actually around 100,000, and that Borrell had misspoke.
Meanwhile, Borrell commended Ukraine “for its restrained response” and repeated the EU’s traditional denunciation of Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea. He called on the Kremlin to implement the Minsk agreements in order to restore peace in eastern Ukraine.