Borrell calls Russia's claims "unacceptable"

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has insisted that any negotiations between Washington and Moscow on security guarantees "must involve the European Union"
Josep Borrell

PHOTO/AP  -   The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell

Less than two weeks before the summit between Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Josep Borrell has argued that the European Union "must not be a spectator" in these negotiations. In an interview with the German daily Die Welt, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy stressed that the United States - or NATO - and Russia cannot be the only parties involved in talks that have a major impact on European security and that "only make sense if they are carried out in close coordination and with the participation of the Union".

Borrell argued that the Kremlin's aim is to deal with "two actors who divide their spheres of influence between them", but added that "negotiating the European security architecture without involving the EU is absurd. We will not accept that. Nothing is decided if we are not there'. Along these lines, the European diplomat also revealed that Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, 'also sees it that way'.

The meeting between Biden and Putin is scheduled for 10 January in Geneva, and is intended to address key issues in the escalation of tensions, such as the disposition of nuclear weapons and Moscow's sending of troops to the Ukrainian border. The Russian leader is also expected to meet with representatives of NATO on the 12th and the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on the 13th.

Joe Biden Vladimir Putin
AP/DENIS BALIBOUSE  -  US President Joe Biden, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right

On the other hand, regarding the list of Russian demands on security guarantees and halting the advance of the Northern Alliance and the EU to the East - presented by Moscow on 17 December - Borrell declared that this is "purely a Russian agenda with completely unacceptable conditions, especially with regard to Ukraine".

"The talks next January between Moscow and Washington cannot only be about Ukraine and NATO's eastward expansion. We should talk about all violations since the Helsinki Final Act was adopted in 1975," the diplomat said, referring to the document that lays the foundations for security, respect for borders and cooperation between European countries.

Russian demands

In recent months, the Biden administration and the Kremlin have been locked in a power struggle. In addition to the mobilisation of some 150,000 Russian troops to the Ukrainian borders, there are also issues such as the attempt by Kiev and Tbilisi (Georgia) to join NATO.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko warned that "Georgia's accession to NATO and the deployment of offensive weaponry on its territory is a red line for us, because such actions will radically change the military and political positions of forces in the Caucasus, posing a direct threat to Russia's security in the region".

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -  NATO flags in front of NATO Headquarters in Brussels

Now, however, in the midst of attempts at negotiations to defuse the situation, the Russian government's proposal for an agreement presented on 17 December has failed to calm the situation. The list of demands included a request that NATO and the EU commit not to expand into Russia's borders and not to carry out military actions in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, the creation of a NATO-Moscow hotline and the withdrawal of Georgia's and Ukraine's applications for membership in the Northern Alliance.

For their part, a number of experts and analysts have described this proposal as a list of demands, rather than a set of demands that could lead to an agreement.

The Ukrainian question

The conflict between Moscow and Kiev is not new. Since the Kremlin annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and began its campaign to support pro-Russian separatists in Donbas, diplomatic tensions between the two have been constant. Now, with the threat of a military invasion that involves sending tens of thousands of Russian troops to the border, hostilities have escalated.

Mapa Ucrania
AFP  -  Map of Ukraine showing regions under separatist control and Crimea, annexed by Russia

Thus, although Josep Borrell was reluctant to evaluate the hypothesis of an armed incursion by Russia, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs stated that "a military invasion cannot be completely ruled out, but there are also many other scenarios and they also worry me, although they are less extreme". By way of example, the diplomat pointed out that there could be "a destabilisation of the government in Kiev through hybrid tactics, a greater escalation between Ukrainian troops and separatists in Donbas, or pressure with less gas for Europe".

In addition, several analysts suggest that the troop movements on the Ukrainian border may not be an attempt to invade the territory, but rather a way of exerting pressure to ensure that Kiev does not join NATO. NATO membership would mean that Russia's power as a regional and international power would be challenged, and its sphere of influence weakened.

Despite this, Josep Borrell explained that Brussels is studying the creation of a 'Military Training and Advisory Mission in Ukraine', through which the European military would help train Ukrainian military leaders. "I will soon present a proposal to the member states of the European Union," added the diplomat.