EU unimpressed by Kremlin ‘intimidation’ over Ukraine

Reports suggest Russia is preparing an invasion

Peter Stano is the European Commission’s lead spokesman for foreign affairs and security policy. Getty
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Brussels is unimpressed by Moscow’s “language of threats and intimidation” despite increasing signals of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, an EU spokesman told The National.

Peter Stano, lead spokesman for the EU’s external affairs, said “there are worries that this tendency of escalation can get out of hand” and that Russia’s behaviour was “unpredictable”.

On Friday, the US said it had information indicating that the Kremlin prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine to justify an invasion.

Nato is a defensive alliance. It’s not something Russia should fear
Peter Stano

Moscow triggered international tension in December when it issued detailed demands for security guarantees, including a Russian veto on Kiev joining Nato.

Russia’s demands came as a surprise to the EU, said Mr Stano, speaking from the European Commission in Brussels.

“No one else sees this threat. Only Russia,” he said. “Nato is a defensive alliance. It’s not something Russia should fear.”

“Russia will never force Nato to commit to not enlarge because this is infringing upon the basic rights and principles on which the European security architecture is built since 1975,” he said, in reference to the Helsinki Final Act.

The act, signed by 35 countries including the former Soviet Union, stressed respect of countries’ territorial integrity, to strengthen diplomatic channels between the East and West.

“If Russia does not want to respect it, then it has nothing to do in a civilised community of nations,” Mr Stano said.

The Helsinki Final Act paved the way for the creation of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in Vienna.

This is where Russia should discuss its security concerns, Mr Stano said.

Sanctions threat

European diplomats told Russia on Friday that they were preparing further sanctions that would form part of a “harsh, robust” response if its troops invade Ukraine.

Mr Stano said Moscow views Nato military operations in Eastern Europe as a threat to its own security.

“If we don’t hear a constructive response to our proposals within a reasonable timeframe and aggressive behaviour towards [Russia] continues, we’ll have to take necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security,” the Russian mission to the OSCE said on Thursday, quoting its ambassador, Alexander Lukashevich.

In December, Russia, which denies planning an attack, conducted military drills near the Ukrainian border and stepped up its troop presence to more than 100,000.

It annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, after the removal of pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Since then, a conflict in eastern Ukraine involving pro-Kremlin separatists has killed more than 14,000 people.

Farther north, in the Baltic Sea, increased Russian activity has caused Sweden to raise its military preparedness, a top Swedish military source told the AP news agency on Friday.

Europe also suspects that Russia is behind a cyber attack launched against Ukrainian government websites on the same day.

Mr Stano accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “wanting to return to old Soviet times” when “Russia and a few other superpowers divided the world among spheres of influence”.

This point of view is “totally outdated and doesn’t fit the modern world”, he said.

“This is not about intimidating people with power but about leading by example and respecting people’s rights.”

Russia’s attempts to sideline the EU in recent negotiations with the US and Nato have met strong resistance, said Mr Stano. The US has been in “constant” contact with the EU, he said.

He cited a phone call about Ukraine on Saturday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.

“We don’t feel left out. We are quite calm and comfortable,” said Mr Stano. “Putin has so far faced a very united front from the whole western transatlantic community.”

Updated: January 15, 2022, 3:31 PM