Sunday

14th Apr 2024

EU summit takes hard look at Russia

  • Theresa May to say Russia was guilty of chemical attack on UK soil (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders will discuss Russian security threats in the wake of the UK attack, but will not adopt new sanctions at Thursday's (22 March) summit.

They will hear from British prime minister Theresa May at dinner how Russia tried to kill a former spy, Sergei Skripal, in England using a chemical weapon.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

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

... or subscribe as a group

  • Italy, Germany, and France to pledge solidarity, but some member states wary of new EU sanctions (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

They will also hear EU Council president Donald Tusk say they should improve border security, cyber defences, and counter-propaganda efforts in light of the events.

May is not expected to propose new EU-level sanctions on Russia, according to diplomats briefed on events, but will say that Russia violated the rules-based order in Europe and that Western allies must stand together.

She will not put forward new evidence of Russia's guilt on Skripal either, but senior British officials did that with European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday and London has shared classified information with EU states bilaterally.

There's "no plausible alternative explanation" than that Russia did it, leaders plan to say in a joint declaration on Thursday along the lines of a foreign ministers' communique adopted on Monday.

"What happened with Russia was serious … we'll use the strongest formulation possible," an EU diplomat said.

The declaration might speak of collective EU action on Russia in future, diplomats said, but new sanctions will not be discussed until Great Britain proposes something at a later stage.

"There'll be no new measures [sanctions] … It'll be a political message," the EU diplomat said.

Tusk's security debate will ask how to defend Europe against Russian assassinations, election interference, and its jets' incursions into member states' airspace, another EU diplomat said.

The Russian actions amounted to "harassment which approaches the threshold of warfare, but remains below it" and was designed "to test" the EU, the diplomat said.

He said the Skripal attack was a "wake-up call" for some EU countries, especially on their vulnerability to chemical or bacteriological attacks.

Looking past the summit, some member states, including Denmark, Poland, and the Baltic countries, are ready to back the UK if it proposed new visa bans and asset freezes on Russian individuals.

Others, including France and Greece are less keen, with France of the opinion that existing Russia sanctions, imposed over its invasion of Ukraine, are robust enough.

"There were differences of opinion on action" at the meeting on Monday, when foreign ministers held an initial exchange of ideas on sanctions, one of the EU diplomats said.

The German foreign minister, on Monday, also said there was a need for "dialogue" with Russia, which he described as a "difficult partner".

Lithuanian minister Linas Linkevicius, who attended Monday's talks, told EUobserver he saw no sign that Germany was prepared to question its plan to build a new gas pipeline with Russia, Nord Stream 2, despite the Skripal affair.

Turkey

EU leaders will also discuss Turkey relations and Western Balkans enlargement on Thursday.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has curbed the flow of Syrian refugees to Greece, but wants progress on visa-free and EU accession talks despite his authoritarian crackdown at home and a series of confrontations with EU states, such as his recent arrest of two Greek soldiers.

Leaders will push Tusk to ask Erdogan if he is still prepared to cooperate on migration and counter-terrorism when he meets the Turkish president at a summit in Varna next week.

The EU needs to maintain a "strategic dialogue" with Turkey, an EU diplomat said. He described Erdogan as an "unpredictable partner", however. "We can't act as if nothing had happened [in Turkey]. The situation is highly problematic," the diplomat said.

Lithuania's Linkevicius told EUobserver the EU should not end accession talks with Turkey because the process was "better than nothing" in terms of promoting EU values.

He added that Western allies had bigger fish to fry than Erdogan's political provocations.

"There could even be possible a collision of [Nato] allied forces [in Syria], which would be dangerous," he said referring to ongoing Turkish and other Nato members' operations there.

Balkans 'confusion'

The EU summit conclusions are to say that a Western Balkans summit in Sofia in May will focus on "reaffirming the European perspective for the region", according to a draft seen by EUobserver.

But behind the scenes, some EU states, such as the Netherlands, do not want the Sofia event to send the message that enlargement is speeding up.

"There's confusion on the objective of the summit. Some see it as pre-negotiations on enlargement, others want a more strategic debate, and to focus on points of cooperation," a diplomat said, referring to cooperation on building new infrastructure in the region, or helping people to get permits to work in the EU.

EU and Nato back UK on Russian attack

EU states pledged "solidarity" with UK over alleged Russian nerve toxin attack, but did not discuss imposing extra sanctions.

Interview

EU should use 'all means' to end war in Gaza: Belgian minister

The EU should use "all means" possible to end the violence in Gaza, including sanctions, a peace conference, and a review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, Belgian development cooperation minister Caroline Gennez told EUobserver.

Opinion

The Bolsonaro-Orbán far-right nexus

Defeated far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has given various reasons for sheltering at the Hungarian embassy in Brasilia — none of them make sense.

Latest News

  1. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'
  2. Belgium declares war on MEPs who took Russian 'cash'
  3. Brussels Dispatches: Foreign interference in the spotlight
  4. Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation
  5. Resist backlash on deforestation law, green groups tell EU
  6. China's high-quality development brings opportunities to the world
  7. Ukraine tops aid list again, but EU spending slumps
  8. Who did Russia pay? MEPs urge spies to give names

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us