Parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committees to send joint delegation to Ukraine

EU High Representative Borrell tells MEPs that Europe is “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst” with regards to Russian military build-up at Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky inspects the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine at the frontline of defense in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, April 8, 2021. | Photo credit: Ukrainian Presidential Office/Handout via Xinhua

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

18 Jan 2022

Coming together for a joint meeting organised at short notice on Monday evening, the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and its Subcommittee on Security and Defense (SEDE), expressed their growing concerns about the situation on Ukraine’s eastern border.

AFET chairman David McAllister (DE, EPP)  tweeted shortly after the meeting, “there is no security in Europe without security in Ukraine”.

The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell had visited Ukraine and the demarcation line with its occupied Donbas region two weeks ago and had come to Strasbourg to debrief the committees about his historic visit and recent developments.

Since the beginning of the crisis last spring, Russian military buildup at the border with Ukraine hasreached 60 battle groups, or 140,000 soldiers, Borrell told MEPs, commenting that this “clearly” represented “more than just a rhetorical threat” to Ukraine.

He reiterated, however, what had already been stated by the European Council at their summit meeting in December, namely that any further Russian aggression would come “at a high cost”.

The High Representative reported that his staff at the European External Action Service (EEAS) continued working on further sanctions against Russia in case they were needed, following the motto of “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst”.

Dialogue with Russia was still essential, Borrell insisted, pointing to the fact that the EEAS’ political director Enrique Mora had just arrived in Moscow for talks.

Borrell admitted that on the highest level, the Russian government was not interested in talking to the EU, following their strategy to try and “divide Europe”. However, he added he was in constant touch with the EU’s partners and Member States that Moscow is talking to such as the US, NATO, Germany and France.

Finally, the High Representative expressed his hope that the EU’s new Strategic Compass document – now needed more urgently that ever, MEPs agreed – would be presented to the European Council at the upcoming summit meeting in March.

The two committees had also invited a guest from the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada. Its chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Integration of Ukraine to the EU Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze called on all arms embargoes to her country be lifted, so “Ukraine can defend herself”.

“What is more provocative to Russia, a strong Ukraine or a weak Ukraine? Putin has always used European weaknesses to attack us”.

Andrius Kubilius, MEP

MEPs, particularly from Eastern and Central European Member States, agreed with her. In light of the German refusal to sell arms to Ukraine, most recently confirmed by the new Foreign Secretary Annalena Baerbock on her visit to Ukraine over the weekend, Former Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius (EPP) wondered:

“What is more provocative to Russia, a strong Ukraine or a weak Ukraine?” He added that in his view, so far, Russian President “Putin has always used European weaknesses to attack us”.

With Russia now using Belarus territory to concentrate more troops along the Ukraine’s eastern border, and with Belarusian state actors as well as Russian ones implicated in the recent widespread cyberattack on Ukrainian government websites, the situation is clearly not yet deescalating.

Closing the meeting, McAllister announced that he and SEDE chair Nathalie Loiseau (FR, Renew) were applying for permission from the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) to send a joint parliamentary delegation on a fact-finding mission to Ukraine and its demarcation line as soon as possible.