Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

Nato chief unveils new plan for eastern Europe

A summit in Minsk on Tuesday (26 August) failed to produce a breakthrough on the Ukraine conflict, while Nato announced a bold new plan for eastern Europe.

The event saw the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, which have formed a Customs Union, meet with the president of Ukraine and three EU commissioners, before the Ukrainian and Russian chiefs broke off for two-hour long talks.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The unusual group held a six-hour plenary meeting, before Putin and Poroshenko broke off for a two-hour tete-a-tete (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The modest outcome saw Russia and Ukraine revive a “Contact Group,” which is to meet in the coming days, most likely in Minsk.

They also agreed to hold minister-level talks, together with EU mediators, on trade in Moscow on 12 September and on gas in Brussels on 5 September.

The Minsk summit took place amid ever-escalating tension in east Ukraine: Ukrainian forces captured 10 Russian paratroopers on its territory the same day, while Reuters reported that “green men” - paratroopers with no state insignia, but believed to be Russian - have arrived in the Ukrainian village of Kolosky.

Poroshenko said the Contact Group will discuss: the possibility of a ceasefire; the closing of the Ukrainian-Russian border; and the freeing of “illegally detained Ukrainian citizens” in Russia.

Putin continued to claim Russia has no involvement in the fighting.

On the captured Russian paratroopers, he said: “I have not yet received a report from the [Russian] ministry of defence, the general staff. But the first thing I heard is that they were patrolling the border, that they could have been on Ukrainian territory [by mistake]”.

He added that he has no influence on pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine: “It [a ceasefire] is not our business, it is an internal affair of Ukraine itself”.

He also threatened to close Russian markets to Ukrainian agriculture and to impose higher tariffs on Ukrainian goods in general if it ratifies an EU free trade pact in September.

“We understand our European partners; they have already developed the Ukrainian market rather well, and would like to get hold of whatever is left and squeeze out everyone else”, he said.

For their part, the EU delegates underlined the need to help Ukrainian civilians and to clinch a gas supply deal before the winter.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said: “We’re in the summer now. But the winter is coming and there are places [in east Ukraine] that don’t have any power, don’t have the capacity to provide heating”.

EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger said Ukraine and Russia should aim for an "interim" deal on gas prices to prevent a gas cut-off to Ukraine and to EU transit customers.

Nato speaks out

Going into the talks, Poroshenko, who shook Putin’s hand in a symbolic gesture, said: "In Minsk at this meeting the fate of the world and Europe is being decided”.

His statement, on the grave implications of Russia’s attack on its neighbour, was echoed by Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The Nato secretary general told The Guardian, a British daily, in an interview also on Tuesday the alliance is planning to set up permanent new bases in eastern Europe.

He indicated the Nato summit in Wales next week will see the creation of a rapid reaction force to counter any Russian action against Nato countries such as Estonia or Latvia.

“The point is that any potential aggressor should know that if they were to even think of an attack against a Nato ally they will meet not only soldiers from that specific country but they will meet Nato troops”, he said.

Asked whether the force will have “permanent” facilities in the east, Rasmussen said: “The brief answer is Yes … Our eastern allies will be satisfied when they see what is actually in the [new Nato] readiness action plan”.

Nato and Russia in 1997 reached a “basic agreement” on the non-deployment of permanent new bases in Nato's ex-Iron-Curtain member states.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on a recent visit to Latvia the treaty is still in force.

But for others, such as Estonian president Toomas Ilves, Russia’s war on Ukraine has made a mockery of the pact.

He tweeted on Wednesday the 1997 accord stipulated “no permanent bases in new members, ‘in the current & foreseeable security environment’.”

He added that the “onus is [on Russia] to prove [the] security environment of 1997 has NOT changed. That after [Russian invasions of] Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea, we're still in lala-land”.

Russia relaxes EU food ban, counts costs

Russia has said its ban on EU food imports will cost it “hundreds of billions of rubles”, while taking several items off the blacklist.

Finland restricts Russian tourist visas

Russian citizens were circumventing the European airspace ban by driving to Helsinki airport, which was being used as a hub to fly to other tourist destinations. Finland is now restricting those border crossings.

Column

Is this strange summer a moment of change?

It is a strange, strange summer. The war in Ukraine continues, 60 percent of Europe is in danger of drought, and Covid is still around and could rebound in the autumn. At the same time, everyone is desperate for normalcy.

Opinion

A year of Taliban — only aid is keeping Afghan kids alive

It's a year since the Western military presence in Afghanistan ended. A year since panic-stricken people flocked to Kabul airport, trying to flee the country, and girls and women waited fearfully for the disintegration of their hard-won rights.

News in Brief

  1. Tens of thousands of Jews quit Russia since start of war
  2. Russia says GDP forecasts better than expected
  3. Spain 'hopeful' for new gas pipeline
  4. German troops return to Bosnia over instability fears
  5. Next UK PM candidates reject Scottish independence push
  6. Russia will not allow British spy plane overflight
  7. Discrimination in Germany remains high, new figures show
  8. US weighs plan to revive Iran nuclear deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  4. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us