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Brussels, 05 December 2018
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It is a pleasure to be here. A couple of weeks ago, the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg joined us with the Defence Ministers of the European Union. So this has become now a usual practice that I appreciate enormously - these constant exchanges and this constant common work that we have developed between the European Union and NATO.
Today in particular, we will discuss our cooperation in the Balkans. The European Union has worked a lot, especially in these last couple of years, with all our partners in the Western Balkans, reaffirming a clear European Union perspective for all our partners in the region that – I want to underline – is a region that is crucial for European security. Our security cooperation with the partners in the Western Balkans is extremely good and, as I said, crucial when it comes to counter-terrorism, when it comes to organised crime, when it comes to the prevention of radicalisation and also on all the other fields cooperation on the Western Balkans. I will brief the Ministers in particular on the state of play of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but also on our work to support the name agreement between Skopje and Athens and the work we are continuing to do in particular with our partners in Bosnia and Herzegovina to keep the focus on the economic reform agenda and keep the European perspective of the country up on the political agenda, after the elections there.
I will also have the opportunity to take part in the meeting of the Ministers of the Resolute Support [Mission in Afghanistan]. Our work with Afghanistan is extremely important, very high on our agenda, and perfectly complementary to the work that NATO is doing there. I was just, exactly one week ago, in Geneva at the conference that the UN organised to support the peace process in Afghanistan. The European Union is a major donor there and I have offered to President [of Afghanistan, Ashraf] Ghani and Chief Executive [of Afghanistan, Abdullah] Abdulllah last week the European Union's support to be a guarantor for the peace process, to support its implementation in very practical terms and we put on the table also very practical incentives for the Taliban to join the peace process and to engage in laying down the arms. The European Union is at the disposal of our Afghan friends to try to start a peace process that can put an end to the war, keeping the achievements, still to be consolidated, especially on the rights of women and the inclusiveness of all Afghans in the society.
One last word: I know that yesterday here the Ministers discussed the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty. For the European Union it is key to our security. It is a fundamental pillar of our security architecture in Europe and we want to see this preserved and fully implemented.
Last but not least, maybe I can take this opportunity to share with you that tomorrow in Milan at the OSCE Ministerial Meeting I will have bilateral meetings separately with the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, and with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin where I will definitely raise the issue of the tensions in the Azov Sea. I have invited Foreign Minister Klimkin to join our Foreign Affairs Council on Monday to show the solidarity of the European Union to Ukraine in this difficult moment and to discuss with him the next steps to try to increase the security there.
Question: Should the European Union impose new sanctions against Russia next week?
We, as you know, require always two things for imposing additional sanctions - or sanctions in general - in the European Union: First of all, a solid legal basis and on this we rely on information that can be shared by the Member States with all the other Member States, and unanimity among the 28 [Member States]. Discussions are ongoing, so it is definitely too early for me to say something on this.
Q. Should European citizens feel concerned after this stern warning that Mike Pompeo [US Secretary of State] launched to Russia yesterday?
We Europeans do not underestimate the security challenges and the security threats that could involve our continent again. Europe was the battlefield for long, it was the battlefield of the Cold War for long, and this is why we value and we appreciate the security architecture that, for so many years, has guaranteed peace and security on European soil. We definitely do not want to see this being torn apart; we definitely do not want to walk backwards.
The INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] has guaranteed peace and security on European territory for thirty years now; it has to be fully implemented. So, I hope that the time that is there to work on preserving the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty and achieving its full implementation can be used wisely by all sides. We will definitely try to make our part to make sure that this happens.
Q. About Russia and Ukraine?
As I said, I will discuss this bilaterally with both the Russian Minister [for Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov] and the Ukrainian Minister [for Foreign Affairs, Pavlo Klimkin] tomorrow. But our position has been very clear. We have always stood very firmly at the side of our Ukrainian friends for their territorial integrity, for their sovereignty.
We are also extremely concerned about the developments in the Azov Sea, not only because of the attempts to Ukraine, but also because the activities in the Azov Sea slow down enormously the vessels that are also carrying European Union Member States flags. We are suffering an impact on our own economies, beyond the security threats that we clearly see today. I will discuss this with Foreign Minister [of the Russian Federation, Sergey] Lavrov tomorrow.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I164756