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Thank you, Minister [for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba].
As you have said, today is my first visit to the east of Ukraine. We have been trying to do this visit before, but for one reason or another - mainly related to the virus and other incidents - it has not been possible to do it. I think this is a good moment, because the geopolitical landscape is changing very quickly, and the conflict in the border of Ukraine is also on the verge of getting deeper.
On the next days, we are going to have an informal Council of Foreign Affairs [Gymnich] and an informal Council with Defence Ministers, and the conversations between Russia, [the] U.S. and NATO are going to start. This is a critical moment and I think it was the right moment to come, even if the weather conditions were not the best to visit this part of Ukraine.
As the Minister has said, this has been an opportunity to witness the consequences of this dramatic conflict that has lasted for almost eight years. This conflict has dramatically changed the lives of people. We see a lot of destinies destroyed. We see families divided on both sides of the contact line and obstacles to access basic services, to live and to work; apart from the lives of the soldiers that have been killed along the contact line in this low-density war that has cost too many human lives.
At the same time, I am impressed by the work of many people - international organisations, NGOs and, certainly, the Ukrainian Government - to facilitate the transfer of people, to receive basic services, to do the administrative demarches, and to visit their relatives on one side and the other.
As you know, the European Union is the most reliable partner of Ukraine. We have been providing political, financial and economic support, over €17 billion since the takeover of Crimea by Russia. Our Association Agreement is the most comprehensive agreement that the European Union has with any other third country in the world.
But, as I said at the beginning, the conflict in the borders is on the verge of getting deeper and tensions have been building up with respect to the European security as a whole.
Russia has been massing troops and weapons in an unusual manner around the Ukrainian borders. This process has happened very quickly. Allow me to remind you that last summer during President [of the United States, Joe] Biden’s first trip to Europe, the primary cause of concern was China. And when President Biden and President [of Russia, Vladimir] Putin met in Geneva, it was assumed that the U.S. and Russia where in a process of building lines of communication. And we, the Europeans, were mainly listening these contacts between Russia and the U.S. But now, everything is different. Not only they are massing troops in the border in a very unusual manner, but also there is this request to discuss two Treaties that Russia has been presenting, willing to talk about the security in Europe.
But we are no longer in the Yalta times. The delimitation of the spheres of influence of the two big powers does not belong in 2022. The security of Europe and the security in Ukraine - because Ukraine is part of Europe - is something that first and foremost affects Ukrainians, and Europeans.
As the Minister has said, we are here, first, to reaffirm the European Union’s full support to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and also to work together to de-escalate the conflict. Our main interest, concern and purpose is to try to de-escalate the tensions through these negotiations and others that will follow, but also through strong stands and firm positions on supporting Ukraine. Both things have to go hand in hand: the will to de-escalate through dialogue, to avoid increasing tensions, to look for solutions, but with firm stands and with a strong commitment that any military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs. We are coordinating with the U.S., NATO and other likeminded partners to work for this de-escalation and the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Let me stress finally that there is no security in Europe without the security of Ukraine. It is clear that any discussion on European security must include the European Union and Ukraine. Any discussion about Ukraine must involve Ukraine, first of all. And talking about the security in Europe cannot be done without not only the consultation, but the participation of the Europeans. That is why we are in strong coordination with the U.S., NATO and likeminded countries. And that explains, apart from the will of expressing our support to Ukraine, my presence here today.
Q. The representatives of the European Union have expressed their dissatisfaction with the organisation of the talks between Russia and the United States of America and they would like to be represented in these talks. What is the position of the leadership of the European Union towards these negotiations and also towards Ukraine in this context?
I have not expressed this dissatisfaction in respect to these talks. If Russia wants to talk. Certainly, it has to be. Organise a dialogue. But on this dialogue, there are not two actors alone. It is not just the U.S. and Russia. If we want to talk about security in Europe, Europeans have to be part of the table. And the agenda of the meetings is not just the issue that Russia has put on the table. There are other issues on the agenda, many of them affecting Ukraine. So, I am not expressing dissatisfaction about the fact that they have started these bilateral talks. It would not be a good idea to refuse the dialogue that Russia is asking for. But, if the Russians are really willing to talk about the security in Europe, then the Europeans have to be part of it, not the first day, but it is not going to last just one day or one week.
Next week, we are going to have the Gymnich meeting, the informal meeting with the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers of Europe, where we are going to discuss the way in which we are going to have our say in these talks, through coordination with the U.S. and talking with the Russians. Like it or not, they will have to talk with us. Be sure of that.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-216291