23rd May 2022

Prepare for a long conflict and bolster defences, EU told

  • Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas: The EU needs 'strategic patience, because peace is not going to break out tomorrow' (Photo: European Parliament)
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On the eve of the European Union summit in Versailles, France, the bloc's leaders were told to prepare for a lengthy conflict and raise their spending on defence to meet the challenge posed by Russia.

Addressing the parliament on Wednesday (9 March), Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas also called on the EU to "push harder and faster" to break dependency on Russian fossil fuels as well as to give Ukraine a clear message it will be welcome in the EU.

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Membership for Ukraine was a "moral duty," said Kallas who told the parliament that her family had experienced the horrors of the totalitarian past in Europe.

Kallas's grandmother and then six-months old mother were deported to one of Sibera's prison camps during the early 1940s.

"We must find a consensus in the EU that sometimes the best way of achieving peace is the willingness to use military strength," said Kallas, who added that the bloc would need "strategic patience" in a situation where peace is far from reach.

Raising military spending across the EU to reach two percent of GDP was "absolute minimum requirement," she said.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who also addressed lawmakers on Wednesday, warned there could be a long road ahead with regard to the war in Ukraine.

"This conflict will last, it will be like Covid, it will not disappear overnight," Borrell said.

Turn radiator down for war effort

And when it came to energy, Borrell said the EU should agree to cut its reliance on Russian energy by two-thirds by the end of the year.

"We need to cut the umbilical cord. We need to stop these flows that allow them to gain assets to finance this war."

In addition, "European citizens need to turn the heat down in their houses, everybody needs to make an effort," Borrell said, comparing it to the collective effort of wearing masks to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Getting Europe, in practice, to take the steps called for Kallas and Borrell is far from straightforward.

EU leaders are deeply divided on Ukraine's EU accession and on how quickly to phase out Russian fossil fuel imports, the key source of energy for many EU countries.

"Some [EU governments] are asking 2030, some are asking 2027, some are saying now... I think some member states might reach this target earlier," said an EU official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of negotiations ahead of the summit, referring to Russian fuel phaseout dates.

"We are phasing out dependencies," said the official, but that "doesn't mean cutting all imports."

A draft statement for the summit said countries will agree to phase out the EU's dependency on imports of Russian gas, oil and coal — but without a fixed date.

The EU imported 155 billion cubic metres of natural gas from Russia during 2021, accounting for around 45 percent of EU gas imports and close to 40 percent of its total gas consumption, according to the International Energy Agency.

EU governments also disagree on whether to speed-up EU membership for Ukraine, which officially applied last week as Russian troops entered the country.

So far, eight member states have officially backed Ukraine. They are: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Kallas told European lawmakers: "Ukraine is not fighting for Ukraine. It's also fighting for Europe. If not now, then when?"

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