New EU appointees speak out against Russia
Two of the EU’s new top officials - Donald Tusk and Federica Mogherini - have spoken out against Russia’s “war” on Ukraine.
Tusk, the Polish PM, who is to take over as EU Council head in December, said at a WWII commemoration in Westerplatte, on the Baltic Sea coast, on Monday (1 September) that Russia’s actions merit a tough Nato response.
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“[The phrase] ‘No more war’ can no longer be the manifesto of the weak and helpless, an expression of the illusion that around us there are no people and no countries who want to use force and warfare as a means of pursuing their political goals”, he noted.
“Today, looking at the tragedy of the Ukrainians, looking at the war, because we have to use that word, we know, that September 1939 cannot be repeated”.
The Battle of Westerplatte marked the start of Germany and Russia’s invasion of Poland 75 years ago.
Tusk got the EU post last weekend despite being an advocate of strong sanctions on Russia.
He spoke ahead of a Nato summit this week which is to see the creation of a “rapid reaction force” to counter potential Russian aggression against the alliance’s eastern members.
Italian foreign minister Mogherini, who is to become the new EU foreign policy chief in November and who is considered Russia-friendly, also criticised Moscow on Monday.
She told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that EU sanctions are hurting the Russian economy and that “the Kremlin is acting against the interests of its people”.
She also accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of not sticking to his promises.
"Putin has never respected the commitments he made in several situations, in Geneva, in Normandy, in Berlin. He wasted the chance to turn things around by influencing the separatists after the shooting down of the Malaysian airplane. The distance between commitments and concrete action has been enormous”.
The comments were echoed by German chancellor Angela Merkel.
She told a press conference in Berlin that tit-for-tat EU-Russia sanctions are hurting the German economy. But she added: “I have to say there is also an impact when you are allowed to move borders in Europe and attack other countries with your troops … accepting Russia's behavior is not an option”.
EU leaders last weekend gave Putin one week to stop hostilities in Ukraine or face new punitive measures, which, according to Reuters, could include a ban on European banks’ buying of Russian state bonds.
The one-week lag was designed to give Ukraine a chance to propose a new “peace plan” in “Contact Group” talks with rebels in Minsk.
But the Minsk meeting on Monday yielded no result, with Russia saying Kiev should accept “statehood” for separatist entities in east and south Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, and its defence minister, Valeriy Heletey, the same day said at least 1,600 Russian troops, including tank columns, are now fighting in Ukraine.
Poroshenko said: “Straight, unconcealed aggression of a neighbouring country against Ukraine has begun. It radically changes the situation in the area of hostilities”.
Heletey added, following a Ukrainian defeat against pro-Russia rebels and Russian forces in a battle at Luhansk airport, that Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” is over and that a direct conflict with Russia has begun.
"Our armed forces were defeating the bands of Russian mercenaries, and destroyed their spies and special agents. This is why the Kremlin was forced to move to a full-scale invasion with its regular army”, he said.
“A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II … We must urgently build our defence against Russia, which is trying not only to reinforce regions occupied earlier by terrorists, but to attack other Ukrainian regions”.