In an attempt to hammer out a response to a feared invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Foreign ministers from the European Union’s 27-member states are meeting in Brussels on Monday
The meeting, which will be joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken by videolink, comes as Washington has ordered families of its diplomats to leave Ukraine amid the crisis.
Some within the EU feel that the bloc is being sidelined in the current situation, with the Russian government concentrating on talks with the US and NATO to put forward its security demands. However, Washington has called on all its allies to come up with economic sanctions to punish Russia if it goes ahead with the invasion.
The meeting in Brussels is taking place as NATO announces it will send additional jets and ships to deployments in Eastern Europe amid invasion fears. The Netherlands, for example, is dispatching two F-35 fighter aircraft to Bulgaria from April, while Denmark will send a frigate to the Baltic Seas and additional aircraft to Lithuania.
What did the foreign ministers say?
The EU foreign ministers in Brussels expressed their latest concerns about the Ukraine crisis, with some members threatening harsh sanctions if Russia moves forward with an invasion.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin is ready to support Kyiv both economically and financially.
“We are closely at Ukraine’s side, with regards to financial support as well as economic support,” Baerbock told journalists, including DW’s Brussels Bureau Chief Alexandra von Nahmen.
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said the bloc is ready to hit Moscow with “never-seen-before” sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, meanwhile, claimed Russia intends to hold war games off his country’s southwestern coast.
“We don’t have a power to prevent this happening but certainly I’ve made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it’s not welcome,” Coveney said.
What will the ministers discuss?
The amassing of more than 100,000 Russian troops at the Ukrainian border has raised Western fears that Moscow may be planning to invade its neighbor, though Russia has denied such intentions.
The ministers will mull a raft of sanctions that could be imposed on Russia should it invade, but a consensus between its members has so far been hard to reach.
Using Europe’s oil and gas imports from Russia as leverage would seem a possible option, but one that is difficult to use without detriment to the EU itself.
A proposal to cut Russia off from the global SWIFT payment system has reportedly been rejected after several countries, led by Germany, complained.
At the meeting, Blinken is to have an “informal exchange” with the EU ministers during which he will brief them on his talks on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Those talks failed to produce any major breakthrough, but an agreement was reached to keep working to ease tensions.
The meeting is also to discuss the current situations in Syria, Libya, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
What is the situation in Ukraine?
Moscow’s military buildup at its border to Ukraine comes as the Kremlin seeks to push through a series of demands it says are essential to Russia’s security.
Among other things, it is calling for guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO and for the military alliance to reduce its military presence in Eastern Europe.
The West sees the demands as an attempt by Russia to regain the sphere of influence it had before the dissolution of the Soviet Union some 30 years ago.
Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in contravention of international law has seen tensions between Russia and the West spiral in the past few years. Russia has also backed a rebellion in the east of Ukraine that has claimed 13,000 lives and seen the rebels take control of considerable amounts of territory in the Donbass region.