In recent weeks, up to 175,000 Russian soldiers have gathered on the border with Ukraine. It is not clear what were Putin’s motives for making such statements, but Western countries do not dare to rule out a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
European heads of state and government discussed the issue at their summit in Brussels on Thursday and decided to issue a warning to Putin. They concluded that “any further military aggression against Ukraine will face serious consequences and high costs, including through restrictive measures coordinated with partners.” Other Western powers have already sent a similar message to Moscow, it is clear that they will work together in further escalation.
According to the diplomats, several options are on the table. For example, sanctions can be imposed on Russian state-owned companies and against oligarchs close to Putin. A ban on the operation of the new Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which runs to Germany, will also be considered. The exclusion of Russia from the international payment system SWIFT is a nuclear option.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with European leaders at the Eastern Partnership summit on Wednesday. He demanded that they impose preventive sanctions on Russia to deter Putin, but they are not responding. Nevertheless, the European Union expresses its full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. It also encourages all diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the conflict between the two countries. Preference is given to talks between Russia and Ukraine, which also includes France and Germany, in the so-called Normandy format. The leaders demand the implementation of the Minsk Accords to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. Since 2014, the year Russia annexed Crimea, Russia has supported separatists in that region.
The situation on Belarus’ borders with EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia was also discussed at the summit. The Minsk mixed offensive, which pushed migrants and refugees across the border to put pressure on Europe, was once again strongly condemned – and so was the resulting humanitarian crisis. Leaders say they will continue to protect Europe’s external borders and are ready to impose additional sanctions on Belarus if necessary.
They reiterate that the regime of dictator Alexander Lukashenko must release all political prisoners in the country and stop the repressive approach of the population and independent media.