Thank you very much, Secretary of State [of the United States], dear Tony [Blinken]. It is great to be here in Washington and to meet in person, after we have been in close contact in past weeks. As you have said, we have been on speed-dial mode. And it is good because we have been coordinating a lot during these days.
Today, our discussion after our bilateral meeting has been about energy on the EU-U.S. Energy Council. This has demonstrated again our strong transatlantic unity on geopolitical questions and around climate and energy issues.
This meeting could not have been more timely, this 9th meeting of the EU-U.S. Energy Council, after four years without a meeting, has been a good occasion to deal with the current circumstances of the threats that Russia is putting on the eastern borders of Europe.
Our joint work is needed to accelerate a green energy transition, to become neutral from the point of view of the climate in the future. In the medium term there is the climate neutrality, in the short term it is security of supplies of gas. Both things go together. We need to face the current situation in the eastern border keeping in mind the purpose of decarbonising our energy mix. The only lasting solution to energy resilience and security is going from fossil fuels to renewables. It is the best way of facing the challenge of climate change.
Today, our environment is characterised by the geopolitical turbulences, in the context of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Energy issues are central to this crisis because Russia does not hesitate to use its significant energy supplies to Europe as a leverage for geopolitical gain. Whereas gas prices in the European Union have been increasing from 6 to 10 times higher than they were a year ago, this has a major impact on consumers and on the competitiveness of the economy. That is why our immediate priority is to diversify the sources of energy, in particular the gas flows, to avoid supply disruption from our main supplier, who is Russia. And to ensure that the world energy markets will be liquid, competitive and well-supplied. Keep in mind that for Europe our dependency on gas is of about 95% of our consumption, oil 97%, coal 70%. These figures are a good indicator of the need of shifting our energy mix to renewables.
Today, dear Tony, we have sent a strong message of our joint determination to bolster energy security, in Europe and in our direct neighbourhood – I am thinking of Ukraine, but also of the Western Balkans.
As to the current crisis around Ukraine, we have seen eye-to-eye our determination to give a united response to Russia’s threats. This is our best asset.
We have repeated our call on Russia to de-escalate and our multi-layered diplomatic engagement will continue on various levels and in different formats – as bilateral contacts, the Normandy talks, the OSCE and NATO.
Certainly, at the European Union we welcome the elements outlined in the United States’ and NATO’s responses to the Russian demands, on European security coordination with the United States and NATO. I think it is exemplary and shows our unity and determination.
We believe that a diplomatic way out of the crisis is still possible, this is our clear and first priority and that is what we are investing all our efforts into.
But, at the same time, we remain firm in our resolve that further aggression against Ukraine would have – as the Secretary of State said – massive consequences. We hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst. Should Russia continue on a path of aggression, the European Union and the United States’ actions will be closely aligned, including on sanctions.
Let me stress how important is Ukraine for us. It is an strategic partner. We have been supporting Ukraine since Russia grasped Crimea with more than €17 billion. And this week we have provided another €1.2 billion in macro-financial assistance. We are helping them in countering cyber and hybrid threats, in strengthening the capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces and in tackling disinformation.
To conclude, let me express my appreciation to you, dear Secretary of State, for the excellent cooperation over the last weeks in tackling so many challenges. That is what we are going to continue doing.
Q. The United States and Europe are pushing Minsk as the solution while Ukraine is completely against it. Do you still think that a measure of autonomy for Donbass, the autonomy stipulated in the agreement, is the way to go? Does the European Union agree with the United States’ assessment that a potential imminent invasion of Ukraine is in the cards? If so, why is not the European Union raising the same alarm as the Americans? And if not, do you have a different assessment of the situation?
We share a strong concern about the risks that are accumulating on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Certainly we are living – to my understanding – the most dangerous moment for the security in Europe after the end of the Cold War.
But, at the same time, we believe that there is still room for diplomacy. There is still room for discussing, for knowing which are the concerns of everybody – also the Russian concerns – in order to avoid the worst. Be prepared for the worst and try to avoid it. Nobody masses 140,000 soldiers heavily armed in the border of a country at the same time that you state about the independence of this country in a way that, certainly, represents a strong threat. 140,000 troops massed in the border is not to go to have tea. So, we have to increase our efforts in order to avoid a big risk for the peace and security.
Minister [for Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey] Lavrov has sent a letter to the Member States of the European Union about it, asking for taking into consideration the security concerns of Russia. I am coordinating the answer to this letter and I am insisting on the fact that there is still room for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Follow-up question: Do you think that telegraphing the alarm so much about the potential invasion works against the chances for a diplomatic solution?
On the one hand, you have to warn about the situation and, on the other hand, you have to work in order to solve the situation. Both things go together.
Q. The US Administration has been sharing to the public several pieces of intelligence information, or at least conclusions and also specific sanctions regarding Russia’s intentions and even how imminent an attack would be. Do you think these can create alarmism? And do you think this is a smart strategy?
At the beginning of the crisis – do you remember, Tony – we had a phone call. And that is when I said that nothing should be agreed about European security without the Europeans. And I am very happy to say that since then we have been working very closely – I think more than ever. This crisis has been pushing the transatlantic unity and I am strongly satisfied of the participation of the European Union in the context of the exchanges of positions among the United States, NATO and Russia.
The European Union is not a military association. It is not a military organisation, a union, but we have a lot of strength on the civilian side. And when we talk about sanctions, we talk about personal sanctions, trade and sectoral economic sanctions, and we talk about financial sanctions. It does not have to be interpreted as a threat. We are not threatening anyone, but we want to make clear, what would be the consequences of some actions. Because this is the deterrence part of the diplomatic talks. I think it is our duty to make clear which will be the consequences of an aggression against Ukraine. If it does not happen, good. We will do everything in the diplomatic side in order to avoid it. But we have to be prepared to answer. In the European Union we have a certain number of tools on the economic side, trade and financial side that could be mobilised and certainly would be very damaging for the Russian economy.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-217944