Josep Borrell's trip to Ukraine demonstrates EU support for Kiev in security crisis

Europe's foreign policy chief says all relevant actors must be around the table

Josep Borrell is on a three-day visit to Ukraine that will take him to the line of contact with pro-Russian separatists. AP

Europe cannot be a “neutral spectator” in talks between great powers about the security crisis enveloping Ukraine, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Mr Borrell, who travelled to Ukraine on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with Kiev during the Russian military build-up on its eastern flank, said the tense situation could not be discussed “without all the relevant actors around the table”.

His three-day trip will take him to the “line of contact” between government forces and pro-Russian separatists, before he travels to Kiev to meet Ukrainian officials in the capital.

His visit comes as the US and Russia gear up for high-stakes talks in Geneva in the coming days, which are leading to concerns about the EU being sidelined in discussions on the future of European security.

“The EU cannot be a neutral spectator in these negotiations if Russia really wants to discuss Europe’s security architecture,” Mr Borrell told Polish news agency PAP.

“We are building a common foreign and security policy and a common security and defence policy precisely for that purpose.”

Mr Borrell said there was no question of anybody “deciding about things related to Ukraine without Ukraine”.

Brussels described his three-day trip as a mission to underscore the EU’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Russian soldiers take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range. AP

Russia has been under sanctions since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Some EU members also suspect a Russian role in the ongoing tensions in Belarus.

Mr Borrell repeated warnings from the West that Russia would face “serious consequences” if it breached Ukraine’s territory.

He said the EU was willing to help Kiev respond to cyber attacks and strengthen its military capacity as it faces up to the Russian threat.

The Russian troop movements have sparked fears that Moscow is planning a full-scale invasion of its former Soviet neighbour, although the Kremlin denies such intentions.

Ukraine’s ambassador in the UK said people in his country feared that “big dealers” would strike a deal behind Kiev’s back.

“We are trying to be very frank with our friends as well,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “The leaders of the West, who are trying to help us, should understand that Ukrainians have their own agenda.

“If Putin wants something and the compromise is too high, Ukrainians won’t just budge.”

Washington is preparing for talks with Moscow after Russia published drafts of a proposed treaty that would ban Nato from expanding further into Eastern Europe.

The US said some of the Kremlin’s demands were unacceptable, while affected countries such as Ukraine, Sweden and Finland said Nato membership was a matter for them.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is hoping for a separate meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German newspaper Bild reported on Monday.

The two leaders recently spoke by phone, but Mr Scholz, who took office last month, is said to want to go further with a “qualified reset” of relations with Moscow.

Any move towards conciliation with Mr Putin would risk angering Russia critics in his three-party coalition.

Mr Scholz’s predecessor Angela Merkel annoyed some European allies by talking directly to Russia’s ally Belarus, whose leader Alexander Lukashenko is under separate EU sanctions.

Updated: January 4th 2022, 3:50 PM