Brussels (dpa) – EU countries’ foreign ministers discuss the recent escalation of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitri Kuleba will also be connected to the video conference.
His country is demanding more support from the EU, for example through new sanctions against Russia. So far, however, the EU has not adhered to not fueling tensions.
Given the strong deployment of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine, there are currently serious concerns that the conflict in eastern Ukraine will escalate again. According to US estimates, Russia has recently relocated 15,000 to 25,000 soldiers to the annexed Crimean peninsula and to the Ukrainian border. The deployment of troops is considered to be the largest since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
At the end of last week, reports had caused a stir that Russia was to conduct a maneuver in the Black Sea on Oct. 31, closing off certain sea areas. A senior EU official spoke of an “extremely worrying development” on Friday. In his view, it can be assumed that the rights of passage enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will be limited and international shipping will be hindered.
The chairman of the conservative EPP group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber (CSU), called on EU foreign ministers to send an “unambiguous message” to Russian leaders. Regarding the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, Weber told editorial network Germany (Monday), “If the situation in Eastern Ukraine escalates, Nord Stream 2 can no longer be detained.” Weber said President Vladimir Putin was trying to build a threat. “In combination with other activities, such as cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns or assassinations, this poses a real threat to the EU and the West.”
FDP foreign politician Alexander Graf Lambsdorff told the “Passauer Neue Presse” that Putin was creating the conditions for a military operation. Europe must now signal to the Kremlin that in the event of an attack, the “hitherto very modest pinprick sanctions” would be drastically expanded. “Then the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project would have to be canceled immediately, that is obvious.”
The pipeline, which is 95 percent complete, is expected to transport 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Russia to Germany. The US fears that Europe is highly dependent on Russian gas and wants to end the project with sanctions. Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Baltic states are also rejecting the pipeline.
Other topics at the Foreign Ministers’ videoconference include efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal and the latest developments in Georgia, India, Myanmar, Mozambique and Ethiopia. The health of Kremlin opponent Alexej Navalny, who has been on hunger strike for more than two weeks, is also at stake, according to EU Foreign Affairs representative Josep Borrell. For Germany, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas wants to participate in the discussions.
The conflict in Ukraine has lasted for about seven years. It has resulted in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk on the Russian border being controlled by separatists loyal to Moscow since 2014. Russia had also previously annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which belongs to Ukraine and has more than two million inhabitants.
The question of why tensions have returned significantly despite an agreed ceasefire is now controversially debated. NATO advocates, among other things, that Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin wants to test the extent to which the new American government’s support for Ukraine reaches. A terrible scenario is that Russia could plan a major offensive with the insurgents in Eastern Ukraine to secure access to the water channel from Northern Crimea to the Dnieper River.
In Moscow, on the other hand, it is argued that Putin only reacts to provocations from Kiev. The government rejects the allegations of the deployment of troops. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu described the transfer of thousands of soldiers this week as an exercise.