European foreign ministers warned this Friday with a robust response to Russia, suspecting that the recent cyber attack against Ukraine could be the prologue of a military action.
The scenario is “more serious than anything we have seen in recent years,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters.
European governments are holding out hope of convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon an alleged plan to invade Ukraine, but have begun preparing responses to Moscow.
“We have the will to deter Russia, and a convergence of analysis, a collective determination to act, and the desire to make the European Union heard” (EU), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said during an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brest.
For his part, a European minister told AFP that “sanctions are on the table. The conviction is that the risk of a Russian intervention in Ukraine is real and we must be prepared to react.”
“We should not take weeks to reach an agreement, as happened with the annexation of Crimea in 2014,” added that source.
That official added that further discussion is planned at the formal meeting of ministers scheduled for January 24 in Brussels.
EU in aid of Ukraine
Russia has concentrated close to 100,000 troops, in addition to tanks, drones and artillery on the borders with Ukraine, and despite the fact that the government in Moscow denies preparing a military intervention, so far it has not been able to convince the Europeans.
“Putin is a chess player,” noted a European leader. “It’s unpredictable, but [sabe que] now is the right time to act, because if you wait, Ukraine will be stronger.”
Ukraine suffered a major cyberattack on government websites on Friday, an episode that reinforced European concerns.
Swedish Chancellor Ann Linde said: “This is exactly the kind of thing we had warned about, and feared.”
This same Friday, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, said that the EU mobilized “all its resources” to help Ukraine in the face of this attack.
According to a senior US official, Russia has “pre-positioned” agents in Ukraine to carry out a sabotage operation that could serve as a “pretext for an invasion.” The Russian government rejected these accusations.
In any case, Europeans keep alive the hope of a path to dialogue and diplomacy.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will travel to Moscow next week for talks “at all levels.”
“Diplomacy, especially in times of crisis, is characterized by great perseverance, great patience and strong nerves,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Russian government does not seem very enthusiastic about the dialogue.
“I see no reason to come to the table [de negociaciones] in the coming days, to meet again and start the same discussions again,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.
The senior official was referring to the deep differences observed during the talks he had in Geneva with a US envoy, and during a meeting of the council OTAN-Russia in Brussels.
Russia demands that NATO make a legal and binding commitment not to add Ukraine and Georgia, whose candidacies have been accepted by the military alliance.
In addition, it demands that the Atlantic Alliance withdraw its military personnel from countries that have since become members of that alliance since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In that scenario, the Europeans want to avoid what they call a “new Yalta agreement,” or an understanding between Moscow and Washington on European security.
Thus, European credibility is at stake.
Dependent on Russian gas and their economic relations with Russia, European countries have been reluctant to blindly follow the United States in the confrontation with Moscow.
At the Brest meeting, European officials praised the “absolutely perfect” coordination with U.S.
“The Russians have tried to divide us, to pretend that the European Union does not exist. But the Americans did not join that game,” Borrell said.
For this reason, the American pressure for generalized sanctions divides the EU.
“The credibility of the Europeans depends on their ability to adopt strong sanctions,” admitted the minister consulted by AFP.
“What matters is deterrence, is being credible about what would be decided if Russia gets involved in a new intervention in Ukraine,” he said.