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UKRAINE

EU eyes more Ukraine arms aid and big Russia sanctions

The European Union on Friday eyed an extra 500 million euros in military support for Ukraine and fresh sanctions on Russia, as Moscow's war spurred vows to bolster the bloc's defences.

Ukraine servicemen praying
Servicemen of Ukraine's Azov Battalion pray in the Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 11, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP)

EU leaders meeting for a summit in France’s Palace of Versailles described Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as a wake-up call for the 27-nation bloc to take a tougher approach to ensuring its security.

“There’s no denying the fact that two weeks ago we woke up in a different Europe, in a different world,” European Council chief Charles Michel said.

The EU’s executive put forward a proposal to double its financing for sending weapons to Ukraine to one billion euros as the West scrambles to back Kyiv’s forces in the face of the Kremlin’s onslaught.

The bloc last month broke a longstanding taboo by agreeing to pay for arms deliveries to Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of his pro-Western neighbour.

The move was part of a broad push by Ukraine’s allies to send weapons amid desperate pleas from Kyiv for air defence systems after calls to impose a no-fly zone were rebuffed.

Alongside further arms supplies, EU leaders also said they were readying a fresh round of economic punishment as they look to keep up pressure on Putin over the bloodshed.

The West has already hit Moscow with a barrage of unprecedented sanctions but the EU has so far failed to agree to follow the US lead in hitting Russia’s key oil and gas exports.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would talk to Putin again in the coming hours with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Macron warned the Kremlin leader of further “massive sanctions” if he steps up the bombing or seeks to besiege Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

“In that case, nothing is off the table, nothing is taboo,” Macron said.

“We will do whatever we deem to be effective and useful to halt Russia in its aggression.”

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen later said on Friday the bloc would ban the export of luxury goods to Russia, striking a “direct blow to the Russian elite”.

On Thursday, she said the 27 leaders agreed to explore ways to eliminate the bloc’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels in five years.

‘Invest more’
As the EU has broken new ground in sending arms abroad, it has also been shocked into reconsidering its approach to security after decades relying on US-led NATO to ensure Europe’s defences.

Leaders agreed in a declaration “to increase substantially defence expenditures” and bolster cooperation on military projects between member states.

“We must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies,” the declaration said.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the bloc was looking at issues such as whether to “procure common capabilities, for example, that are too expensive for any individual state to buy on their own.”

She also called for all EU members states — six of which are not in NATO — to mirror the military alliance’s commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence.

Collective security in the European Union is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s biggest military power, has been spearheading calls for an enhanced role for the bloc.

The assault on Ukraine has now prompted some about-turns.

Germany tore up decades of policy by agreeing to send weapons to Ukraine after the start of the war and has pledged an extra 100 billion euros ($110 billion) to help improve its armed forces.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said countries were acting “dangerously” by backing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

Long road to EU
The EU leaders on Thursday doused Ukraine’s hopes of quickly gaining European Union membership, saying it was a long-term process, not a “fast-track”.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said in a video message after Friday’s talks that Ukraine wanted the EU “to be more ambitious” in its commitments regarding possible membership.

But he insisted: “We Ukrainians know for 100 percent that Ukraine will be a member of the European Union,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of time.”

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Member comments

  1. NATO is old school cold war alliance but a new and improved EU army could work at addressing the security concerns of the bloc and even neutral countries could get behind it.

  2. NATO is old school cold war era alliance but an EU alliance could address the security concerns of the bloc inc with neutral countries.

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UKRAINE

Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Moscow on Wednesday kicked out 27 diplomats from Spain, as well as dozens more from France and Italy in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European countries as part of a joint action against Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Spain has lashed out at Russia for expelling 27 Spanish diplomats in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat response over a similar move by Madrid against Russian diplomats over the Ukraine conflict.

The employees of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg “have been declared persona non grata” and will have seven days to leave Russia.

 “Russian authorities justify this decision on grounds of reciprocity for the expulsion of 27 Russian embassy officials in April. But that expulsion was based on justified security reasons, which are not present in this case,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The Spanish decision was taken in early April just days after dozens of bodies in civilian clothing were found on the streets of Bucha just outside Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian troops, raising allegations of Russian war crimes.

At the time, the foreign ministry said it would expel the Russian diplomats on grounds they were “a threat to (Spain’s) interests and security”.

The Russian ambassador was not among those asked to leave.

The ministry told Spanish ambassador Marcos Gómez Martínez that the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Madrid “would have a negative impact on Russian-Spanish relations”.

Spain’s decision was part of a coordinated move across Europe that saw more than 200 Russian envoys sent home in 48 hours on grounds of alleged spying or “national security reasons” as outrage grew over the atrocities in Ukraine.

More European diplomats expelled

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in Russia and gave them two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement said.

While there was no official statement, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled.

The foreign ministry in Paris said France “strongly condemns” the expulsion of its diplomats by Russia, adding that this step from Moscow had “no legitimate basis”.

It said the work of French diplomats in Russia “takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

‘Hostile act’

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi condemned the expulsions as a “hostile act” but said diplomatic channels must remain open “because it’s through those channels that, if possible, peace (in Ukraine) will be achieved”.

Separately, municipal lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday backed a decision to name a previously unnamed area in front of the US embassy in Moscow “Donbas Defenders Square”.

The name refers to a majority Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine that Russia says it is liberating as part of its military campaign.

In February 2018, a street outside the Russian embassy in Washington was named after Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015.

President Vladimir Putin in late February sent troops into Ukraine, saying the campaign aimed to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers in the pro-Western country.

In response Moscow has faced a barrage of international sanctions and growing isolation from the global community as relations with the West deteriorate to Cold War levels.

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