The EU defines Russia as “a direct and long-term threat” to its security | International
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“Our neighborhood is on fire from Gibraltar to Ukraine.” This is the alert launched this Monday by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, when presenting the new security policy of the Twenty-seven. Borrell has not directly mentioned the origin of the threat in this sentence, but the document approved in Brussels is quite clear in identifying Russia. The Strategic Compass, the official name of this community defense policy, points to Moscow as an actor directly involved in recent years in armed conflicts (Georgia, Ukraine, Mali, Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic) at the gates of Europe. And that leads to talk of Russia as “a direct and long-term threat to European security.”
“The war in Ukraine has been an awakening in consciences,” Borrell added at a press conference. The Spanish politician, however, has clarified that the Strategic Compass is not an answer ad hoc to the Russian invasion that began on February 24. The common security and defense plans of the European Union began to be drawn up two years ago and their first draft, advanced by this newspaper, was released in November. But in these four long months, reality has changed a lot and the Russian threat has gained a lot of weight in the final document: “We will face it with resolution.” “The aggressive and revisionist actions of the Russian government, together with its Belarusian accomplice, are a direct threat to European security and citizens,” he adds. None of these phrases could be read on that paper prepared a few months ago.
“When I presented these plans months ago I said: ‘Europe is in danger.’ Someone could think then that they were selling a product”, Borrell has described to point out how the situation has changed in this time. “Now it is evident”, he concluded.
Also China, which maintains a biased neutrality towards Russia regarding the aggression against Ukraine and defends its friendship with Moscow, appears as “a systemic rival” that is “increasing its nuclear arsenal”. But in the same document it can also be read that Beijing is a partner to cooperate with and also an “economic competitor”. This Monday, during the presentation of the Compass, it has not deserved a single mention by the high representative.
Objective: increase defense spending
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The specific plans approved do not differ much from what had already been advanced. The EU continues to consider its first joint military maneuvers for 2023 and the creation of an operational intervention force, which in three years will have up to 5,000 soldiers. This step goes beyond the concept of a European battalion that was created in 2017, a tool that has a theoretical availability of up to 1,500 multinational uniformed officers but that has never been activated due to lack of political will, financial resources for their mobilization and the absence of prior joint training.
“This is just the beginning, some plans that have to be translated into concrete results with clear time milestones”, Borrell stressed. One of those specific issues included in the document is to ask the European Commission for a tax proposal “that would allow a VAT exemption to support the acquisition and joint ownership of defense capabilities developed collaboratively within the EU.” The objective is to increase the defense budgets of the Member States.
In line with what was announced in the Versailles declaration, approved two weeks ago in the European Council, the high representative has also pointed out that the Strategic Compass proposes an increase in defense spending because the current one – some 200,000 million a year or the equivalent to 1.5% of GDP – is “insufficient”. “We need to increase our capabilities. We have to spend more and better”, he continued, emphasizing that it is not a question of creating a single European Army, but of improving coordination because in reality the joint bill in defense of The Twenty-seven is greater than that of Russia and equal to that of China.
Along with the tangible and traditional threats of the great powers, European security plans also highlight the challenge posed by terrorism, disinformation, attacks in cyberspace or hybrid wars. But these threats are now perceived as less proximate compared to the immediate one: the invasion of Ukraine, an issue on which EU foreign ministers have discussed, among other things, what new sanctions can be imposed on Russia. Among the options being considered is the punishment of Russia’s energy exports. “Some States have raised it,” Borrell acknowledged, “but it’s not about one country being for or against, but rather that we can take action together without an unaffordable cost.”
The EU does not have much room to continue increasing sanctions on Russia without entering its energy exports, but this means entering a field that could break the unity shown up to now. On the one hand, there are the countries that are in favor of stopping buying hydrocarbons from Moscow, mainly Poland and the Baltic countries; on the other, those who are more reluctant, with Germany at the forefront; and in the middle, a large group, with Spain, Holland or France, worried that the communion shown up to now will not be broken.
The White House corroborates the Western diplomatic front
The White House has confirmed this Monday the Western diplomatic front in the face of the war in Ukraine through a telephone conference between President Joe Biden and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron; the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, and Italy, Mario Draghi. The point of the call, which comes two days before Biden travels to Europe to address on-site the situation with the allies, was “to discuss coordinated responses to the unjustified and unprovoked attack by Russia against Ukraine.” According to the statement released by the White House, “the leaders discussed their serious concerns about Russia’s brutal tactics in Ukraine, including its attacks on civilians. [Los cinco] They underscored their continued support for Ukraine, including providing security assistance to brave Ukrainians defending their country from Russian aggression and humanitarian assistance to the millions of Ukrainians who have fled violence. The leaders also reviewed recent diplomatic efforts in support of Ukraine’s effort to reach a ceasefire.”
President Joe Biden has warned that Moscow could redouble its cyberattacks against US strategic targets because of the “unprecedented economic cost that we have imposed on Russia,” he said, referring to the battery of sanctions adopted by the US and its Western allies against the Kremlin. Biden’s warning came as the White House recommended that companies providing essential services bolster their cyber defense “due to ongoing digital threats from Russia,” said Ane Neuberger, the White House’s chief cybersecurity officer.
In Brussels, Biden will participate this Thursday in an extraordinary NATO summit, in which all of them will coincide, as well as in the European Council, in which the only one who will not be present will be Johnson. He will also attend a meeting of the G-7. On Friday and Saturday he will travel to Poland, where he will have a brief meeting with his counterpart Andrzej Duda. Since the start of the war, almost a month ago, Biden has been in regular contact with European leaders in recent weeks. In addition to the aforementioned leaders, on some occasions the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, have joined.
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