The European Union wants to shield its position before Russia with a clear red line: the invasion of Ukraine would entail sanctions of extreme and unprecedented harshness against Moscow. The provisional draft of conclusions of the last European summit of the year, which brings together the leaders of the Twenty-seven in Brussels this Thursday, is a direct warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Any new military aggression against Ukraine will have enormous consequences,” he says. the text. The ultimate goal, should Moscow take the fatal step, would be to isolate Russia economically and de facto disengage that country from the rest of the world. Brussels still trusts that Putin will agree to negotiate a de-escalation of tension. But as the EU's high representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, has stated, “we hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst”.
The tense situation with its neighbor to the East, which has been worsening in recent weeks as Russian troops accumulated on the border with Ukraine, will lead a European Council in which the community bloc wants to highlight two ideas: on the one hand, it invokes the de-escalation and the diplomatic channel to defuse the geopolitical time bomb at the gates of the Union; on the other, it brandishes a battery of sanctions and punitive measures that exhaust adjectives in diplomatic forums – “forceful”, “severe”, “serious” -. The European Commission has been preparing this package of options for months, but its content is currently one of the best-kept secrets in Brussels.
“The European Council underlines the urgent need for Russia to reduce the tensions caused by the military concentration on its border with Ukraine and the aggressive rhetoric,” says the provisional document of Council conclusions, which the 27 EU leaders hope to approve this Thursday . The text calls for a return to diplomatic channels, “especially in the Normandy format to achieve the full implementation of the Minsk Accords”, referring to the high-level forum created in 2014, after the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia , in which France and Germany mediate between Moscow and Kiev.
These words were reflected in the entry of the Heads of State and Government to the European Council. “We must once again emphasize the inviolability of the borders and that we will do everything together to ensure that this inviolability is maintained,” stressed the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who has supported the decision of his Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, to expel to various members of the Russian Embassy in Germany. Precisely the new German president makes his debut at this summit and his every gesture is carefully scrutinized, as Brussels has become a hotbed of uncertainty eager to know the content of this package. Similar messages have been launched by the Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, and the Polish, Mateusz Morawiecki, who has indicated that it had to be clear that he was optimistic about the possibility of “reaching common conclusions that will announce a response if there is a military aggression against Ukraine”. The president of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, on the other hand, has hardly stopped on the matter. He has only mentioned that he was on the agenda for a day that he foresees to be “very long”.
The warnings to Moscow about the advisability of seeking a negotiated solution or exposing themselves to unprecedented economic reprisals are in line with the messages launched last week by the president of the United States, Joe Biden, during a video call with Putin. And the western slogan has been replicated in different forums, from the G-7 to NATO.
“There will be enormous consequences and a high price to pay in the event of a new military aggression committed by Russia against Ukraine,” stressed Charles Michel, president of the European Council, in an appearance on Wednesday at the end of the Eastern Partnership summit. This other appointment prior to the European Council has brought together in Brussels the leaders of the Twenty-seven with the heads of State and Government of five countries of the former Soviet space: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine; the seat of Belarus, which has suspended its participation in the forum due to the widening gulf that separates it from the Union, has been left empty.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked from Brussels for preventive and not only reactive measures against Russia at the end of the eastern meeting, which has served as a warm-up to the meeting this Thursday: “It is important that sanctions are adopted before and not after let the conflict occur ”, has requested Zelenski. But the EU, which has ensured that it works “closely” with NATO and its allies, has a different rhythm, as Michel and the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, replied shortly after.
They recalled that there are already sanctioning measures imposed against Russia since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. “We are prepared for any increasing aggression from the Russian side,” said Von der Leyen with a gesture of unusual gravity, assuring that Brussels has been doing “its homework” since the summer.
The president of the Commission added that “there are already sanctions in place and these can be reinforced. But of course there are also sanctions prepared, which are additional and would add up, in all the different fields you can think of. And the message is very clear: should Russia commit further aggressions against Ukraine, the costs will be severe and the consequences serious. And this is the clear message at this time. ”
Diplomatic sources have pointed out that the preparations carried out so far would allow a battery of punishments to be approved in record time that would hit the waterline of a Russian economy already quite weakened and dependent on its energy exports to the European market. The same sources recalled that in previous conflicts “the sanctions were approved in just 72 hours”.
Questions remain in the air about how a neighbor of the stature of Russia would be isolated and about the viability of turning that country, a member of the UN Security Council, into a kind of international pariah, as was done with Iran until the agreements to put an end to its nuclear program. But Brussels seems to have no doubts about the impact of its arsenal. “They are huge sanctions, which are intended to short-circuit the Russian economy from the rest of the world,” Borrell pointed out to a group of journalists last week.
The matter will fly like a black shadow over the European summit this Thursday, but it will be discussed, as planned, during a lunch without mobiles in the room. Objective: to minimize the risk of leaks that endanger the confidentiality of the conversations or allow Putin to be aware of intentions that the EU prefers to keep hidden.
Von der Leyen plans to comment on the general lines of the options menu he has prepared, but will not go into details. The idea is not to do it at this time. And this, diplomatic sources add, is part of the message: they simply want to record the magnitude of the coup, and the European unity behind it, but not show the letters.
The battery of possible sanctions aims to respond to different scenarios. And they have been designed, as understood by the Commission, with the same strategic logic that Putin usually works with: preparing different options to finally make a decision. The reaction, recall community sources, could be very fast, as it already happened in 2014. And the cost, they acknowledge, would not only fall on Russia: they will be as painful for the opponent as for the EU, and will have an unequal impact on the different states. members. “But we are willing to put the money where we put our mouths”, ditch a high diplomatic source.
Sánchez sees ” insufficient “the energy proposal of the European Commission
The response of the European Commission to the increase in energy prices, especially gas, is “insufficient” for the Spanish Government. “We continue with rising prices,” said the president, Pedro Sánchez, upon arrival at the European Council in a speech at the entrance of the meeting in which he did not accept questions, unlike other heads of state and government. This intervention began with the demand of the socialist politician that “the European Union take action and do it much faster.”
Despite the criticism, Sánchez did recall that one of the proposals of the Executive of Ursula von der Leyen is “an idea of Spain.” It refers to the proposal for voluntary strategic reserves that the Commission announced on Wednesday after approving it at the meeting of the College of Commissioners on Tuesday.
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