At first taken aback and reduced to a secondary role, the Europeans hope for a continuation and a broadening of the discussions initiated this week by the United States and Russia on Ukraine and the security of the continent. This is the message they sought to convey, Thursday, January 13, in Brest (Finistère), on the occasion of a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs and defense of the Twenty-Seven. “We are in a logic of firmness and dialogue”, said Jean-Yves Le Drian, before welcoming his counterparts alongside the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.
A little earlier, the declarations of Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, had nevertheless cast a chill: “Without clarifying whether there is (…) reserves of flexibility on the other side on important subjects, there is no reason to come to the table [des négociations] in the next few days, he said, three days after opening negotiations on Monday with US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Since then, the NATO-Russia Council has come up against, unsurprisingly on Wednesday, the freezing of the enlargement of the alliance demanded by Moscow, which makes Ukraine’s membership a red line.
Thursday, the Russian negotiator did not even wait for the last meeting of the week, the meeting of the standing committee of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to shower the hopes of relaxation. While the rotating Polish presidency of this body invited to relaunch the negotiations on continental security, the representative of Moscow in this forum castigated “lack of appropriate response” of Westerners. The Viennese stage had however been organized at the request of the United States to associate Ukraine with the talks. The only institution bringing together the east and west of the continent, the OSCE is also responsible for supervising compliance with the Minsk agreements supposed to put an end to the fighting in the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donbass. In vain since 2014.
For the Europeans, the urgency is twofold at this stage: to weigh as much as possible on the dialogue outlined, if it were to be prolonged, and to prepare for the possibility of failure by developing, in contact with the United States , an arsenal of sanctions likely to deter Russian leader Vladimir Putin from attacking Ukrainian territories again, seven years after the annexation of Crimea.
On the first point, the Brest meeting will have made it possible to close ranks, despite the traditional differences that persist on relations with Russia. “Security in Europe can only be discussed by Europeans, insisted the head of German diplomacy, Annalena Baerbock, in unison with her counterparts: EU members are central” in the various fora, she recalled, in particular within NATO. Moreover, according to Mr. Le Drian, “The elements are in place to relaunch the “Normandy format”” – which brings together Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, in order to appease the conflict in the Donbass. “It would be a strong sign”, he assured.
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