Tuesday

18th May 2021

Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line

  • EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell (r) with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in February (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Ukraine has invited EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell to visit its front line with Russia, in what one EU diplomat said would be his "best revenge" for his recent humiliation in Moscow.

"I would like to invite you to visit the contact line in Donbas [a region in east Ukraine] at the earliest possible time," Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote in a letter to Borrell earlier this week, seen by EUobserver.

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"Your presence in my country at this challenging time would also send a powerful message of solidarity to Ukrainian people, who are suffering from foreign military aggression for seven years in a row and who continue to fight for an independent, European Ukraine," he added.

Kuleba wrote amid what he called "an unprecedented Russian military build-up along Ukrainian borders, in the occupied territories, and on the seas".

He also thanked EU foreign ministers for inviting him to attend their meeting in Brussels on Monday (19 April) to brief them on these "dangerous developments".

Russia recently started massing tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine and in Russia-occupied Crimea, as well as sending amphibious-assault warships to the Black Sea, in what looked like preparations for a major offensive in May.

Borrell's spokesman confirmed he had received the letter, noting "there will be a possibility to discuss all this also on Monday".

Borrell "has a longstanding plan to visit eastern Ukraine and the contact line. He was already scheduled to do it last year in March, but had to cancel last minute due to the corona pandemic, and recently he spoke about the possibility to visit that part of Ukraine with the Ukrainian prime minister," the EU spokesman added.

If he does go, he would be following in the footsteps of three foreign ministers from the Baltic states, who went there earlier this week.

"The EU is best at expressing deep concern. It's great that some EU countries have the balls to go beyond deep concern," a senior EU diplomat told EUobserver.

"Regretfully, they are not in a majority. Hopefully, the day of EU strength is not that far away and sleeping Europe won't need yet another occupation in its neighbourhood to wake up," he added.

Moscow memories

Borrell did go to Moscow in February.

But that trip saw him humiliated by Russia, which expelled three European diplomats while he was there, and whose foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, harangued the EU in a joint press conference.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's president, Volodomyr Zelensky, recently invited European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to visit Kiev in August, but she snubbed him by getting a senior official, Björn Seibert, to say on her behalf that she was too busy to go.

"It [Borrell's visit to Donbas] would be his best revenge for how Lavrov treated him in September," another EU diplomat told this website.

"It might also help [restore good will] after how Seibert wrote to Zelensky on von der Leyen's behalf, which was scandalous," he said.

Nato and US urge Russia to back off on Ukraine

Nato and the US have put on a show of solidarity with Ukraine over Russia's military build-up, with American president Joe Biden offering to hold a summit with Russia to defuse tensions.

Russia humiliates Borrell in Moscow

Russia expelled European diplomats and harangued the EU on human rights, while Borrell went off-script on Cuba in Moscow on Friday.

Czech leader downplays Russian bomb attack

The Czech government has downplayed the significance of Russia's lethal attack on a weapons depot in 2014, but further retaliatory measures, including at EU or Nato level, could follow.

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